Mountain View Chamber of Commerce webinar provides recommendation on dealing with ADA-related lawsuits | Enterprise
Experts last week gave outspoken advice to local businesses feared being targeted by mass litigation over accessibility requirements for the disabled: obey the law.
“These are usually not frivolous lawsuits,” said Ken Van Vleck, an attorney who defends companies in lawsuits for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990. “Frivolous lawsuits mean that no reasonable attorney would have considered filing the lawsuit from the start. … Most of the time there are violations of the ADA, and these violations need to be corrected. “
Recent concerns about ADA-related suits, particularly with restaurants moving to outdoor dining under COVID-19 restrictions, led to the webinar on handling accessibility requirements last week. The discussion held on August 2nd by the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, which was also attended by the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, offered perspectives from lawyers, city officials and a compliance specialist.
Peter Katz, President of the Mountain View Chamber, set the course by defining the topic. He pointed out the noble intent of the law: to ensure that equal access is adequately guaranteed.
“Our dealers definitely applaud these efforts,” he said. “However, rapid changes were made to many facilities during the pandemic, such as: B. the expansion outdoors just so the companies could survive. This added conditions that may have made them vulnerable to breach. In fact, in the past few weeks, a number of our companies have been served with complaints of ADA mobility access violations. “
Some companies see ADA serial plaintiffs – including paraplegic attorney Scott Johnson – capitalizing on troubled facilities and costing them thousands of dollars to settle them. Johnson, who has filed more than 6,200 lawsuits, has targeted several companies in Los Altos and Mountain View for non-compliance.
A July 28 Town Crier article noted that ADA plaintiffs like Johnson often target small businesses that lack the resources to defend themselves and therefore have no choice but to settle down.
However, the webinar attendees noted that companies must continue to comply with the law and that if they fail to comply, they should seek help from professionals in the field.
“You can’t just say it’s just unfair because they never warned me. That’s not how ADA works, ”said Van Vleck.
“Accessibility and compliance are good business,” added Roger Miller, a Certified Access Specialist, or CASp. “I don’t know if you’ve seen this before, but someone comes into a restaurant in a wheelchair and doesn’t come with their four or five friends, so they could turn their backs on this restaurant and go somewhere else.”
CASps are experts in building accessibility and are state licensed under Senate Bill 1608. The 2008 law aimed to handle serial ADA lawsuits by providing CASp inspections. The law provides for “qualified defendant status” in the event that a company is sued, with a 90-day stay of the lawsuit and an “early evaluation conference”. The defendant must submit a CASp test report.
Develop a plan
Miller referred to U.S. census data showing that people with disabilities form a sizeable base, with more than 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S., and the number is set to double by 2030.
He advised companies: “Basically, put yourself in the shoes of a person with a disability and how they will function in the environment. … The easiest way (to avoid litigation) is to make your property fully accessible. Have your property inspected and develop an implementation plan. “
For those tight on cash, Miller says there are small business tax credits and deductions, including a deduction of up to $ 15,000 per year for the cost of removing barriers in facilities. He also cited an ADA funding program for the retrofit. Mountain View’s manager of economic vitality, John Lang, said some funds are available through the city related to ADA access and litigation.
Miller also cleared up some myths: There are no “grandfathering” or exceptions for older buildings. Both tenants and landlords can be held liable. City permits don’t necessarily mean full compliance. David Basinger, who conducts building inspections for the city of Mountain View, found last week that the city is reviewing accessibility, but CASps offers “a higher level of verification”.
Miller also cited resources available from the California Commission on Disability Access; His website (dgs.ca.gov/ccda) has a top 10 list of the most common violations.
Van Vleck likened ADA compliance to taking out insurance: those who choose to do so are protected, while those who don’t are vulnerable to the consequences.
“We probably wouldn’t have a board like this to tell business owners how to comply with the ADA if a number of people with lawsuits hadn’t been served,” he said.
ADA compliance defender Martin Orlick warned business owners.
“There are two types of companies: those that have been sued and those that will be sued if you haven’t followed Roger Miller and David’s advice and brought your companies into compliance,” he said. “(Scott Johnson) knows enough about the ADA to roll down every street in America and find violations – they’re so obvious.”
An example could be inaccessible outdoor tables in parklets.
Orlick described a legal minefield for companies to be brought to justice. He said externally discovered violations could prompt plaintiffs to return and “identify additional obstacles”. He also recommended hiring an attorney to hire the CASp rather than hire him directly.
“The (CASp) report is (otherwise) traceable and used against you,” he said.
Orlick said companies should consider themselves lucky if such a lawsuit can be settled for under $ 10,000. The cost increases when the lawsuits are challenged.
“Take a deep breath – don’t see this as the end of your business,” he advised the business owners. “Yes, it is a chore, it will take some of your time and it will cost you money.”
Van Vleck concluded with this advice: “Now hire your CASp inspector, make the changes described and help protect yourself from such lawsuits by doing the right thing.”
To watch the Chamber’s ADA webinar, visit youtube.com/watch?v=anRN7UUO0o0.
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