Since 2004, more than 20,000 ADA lawsuits have been filed in the country’s federal courts. The number of ADA filings in state courts is unavailable, but likely runs in the thousands. Nearly one half of all ADA lawsuits were filed in California with no end in sight.
From September 2013- December 2014 (the last time period the figures are available) more than 3,000 ADA lawsuits were reported to the California Commission on Disability Access (CCDA). According to the CCDA, more than one-half – 54% – of all construction-related accessibility complaints filed in California were filed by 2 law firms (one of the lawyers is fighting a State Bar suspension stemming from ADA litigation).
According to the CCDA, 46% of all complaints were filed by 14 plaintiffs seeking quick settlements rather than correction of the alleged access violations. For years, thousands of businesses, including many small minority-owned businesses, have been targeted by a growing number of repeat plaintiffs and law firms. This increasing trend has prompted state and federal action to curb ADA abuse.
For example, these findings prompted the California Legislature to enact Civil Code Section 425.55 which is intended to curb ADA abuse. Section 425.55 defines these serial plaintiffs and their attorneys as “high-frequency litigants” and requires specific procedural and substantive conditions to be met before they can file litigation.
For all who own or operate businesses serving the general public, it is important to know about state and federal efforts requiring would-be plaintiffs and their attorneys to provide a specific pre-filing notice and opportunity to cure before they can initiate litigation and how these new laws impact you. Thus far, there are no notice and cure requirements.
H.R. 3765: ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015
The bill which now has 15 cosponsors (14 Republicans, 1 Democrat) would amend the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to promote compliance through education, clarify the requirements for pre-litigation demand letters and provide a notice and cure period before private ADA litigation can be filed. The bill would require the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to create and implement a program to educate state and local governments and private business owners and operators on effective barrier removal strategies to enhance accessibility on a national basis.
The bill would prohibit persons from initiating litigation without sending pre-suit notification alleging the specific ADA violations they encountered and how these barriers prevented the claimant from full and equal access to the property or business (and could impose criminal fines on those who initiate litigation without the pre-suit notification). The bill prohibits filing civil actions based on the failure to remove architectural barriers at existing public accommodations unless (1) the claimant has provided the owner or operator of a business with a written notice specific enough to identify the alleged barriers and (2) the owner or operator fails to provide a written description outlining the improvements that will be made to the property of if they fail to make substantial progress to remove the barriers after a reasonable time. Similar bills have been proposed over the years, but this time, the bill is moving forward with broader support from Republicans and Democrats.
To see the current status of H.R. 3765, including full text of the bill, click here
California Ballot Measure to Curb ADA Lawsuits
California lawmakers are listening to business owners and operators who are calling for ADA reform. For years, business owners and industry groups have been requesting that a pre-filing notice and cure provision be added to the State’s accessibility laws. Although some legislative efforts have been partially successful, this time California voters may get to decide whether state law will be amended to require a pre-litigation notice and cure be given, specifying the alleged architectural barriers that prevented disabled persons from enjoying a businesses’ goods and services and providing a reasonable opportunity to remove the barriers.
A ballot measure addressing these matters has been cleared, and the proponents are busy collecting the needed 585,000 signatures of registered voters. If passed, the ballot measure would require that people with disabilities give property owners or businesses 90 days notice before they could file ADA litigation. It would also bar lawsuits from proceeding if the alleged barriers are fixed within that 90 day window. Building permits designed to enhance accessibility would be given processing priority. Many ADA lawsuits involve common architectural barriers such as non-compliant parking, signage, door pressure, fixture heights, pool lifts and other accessible elements which can be addressed within 90 days.
However, for more complex architectural barriers, such as the lack of the requisite number of accessible guestrooms, non-compliant toilet rooms, the lack of lower accessible bank teller or concession counters require engineering, architectural drawings, construction contracts, permitting and possibly financing, a 90 day time frame is insufficient.