SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – Hundreds of merchants in the Bay Area have recently been hit hard by lawsuits for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. And the legal steps are not only directed against brick-and-mortar stores; it also targets internet sites.
Instead of a “drive-by” ADA lawsuit, it is referred to as “click-by” on the street. Some ADA serial plaintiffs complain almost entirely about website access. And hotels are the hottest destinations.
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Prabha Patel really wanted to show KPIX 5 how ADA compliant their hotel room for the disabled is.
“100 percent compliant; 110 percent compliant! ”Said Patel.
But there wasn’t anything in the room itself that recently sued this San Francisco hotel owner. It was the hotel’s booking website that the plaintiff claimed was not fully accessible. And Patel isn’t the only one facing such a claim.
“We had a lawsuit that was filed against us. The interesting thing is that my hotel was closed so you couldn’t have stayed with us anyway, ”said Jon Handlery, General Manager of the Handlery Hotel in Union Square.
Handlery’s Hotel was also sued over its booking site, one of 14 hotels in the Union Square area that was hit with almost identical complaints in just a month last fall.
“The hotel industry will do everything to do justice to people with disabilities. Because they are on their way. So why shouldn’t you have the opportunity to have them as guests like everyone else? ”Asked Handler.
The plaintiff in the Handlery case was Samuel Love, a disabled man who has filed more than 850 ADA lawsuits, most with online web access.
Orlando Garcia filed the same lawsuit against the Inn at Golden Gate. He also recently sued dozens of traders in Chinatown and Alameda.
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Federal lawsuits about website accessibility are nothing new. But in the past five years, filings have more than tripled, according to ADA defense firm Seyfarth. They rose another 12% during the peak of the pandemic last year.
“I think they’re easy targets, don’t they? So, I mean, from an online standpoint, you don’t have to go anywhere. You could do it from home, couldn’t you? ”Said Roshan Patel.
He and his brother Raj Patel run INNsight, a company that specializes in ADA compliance for hotel reservation websites. INNsight designed the website for the Inn at Golden Gate.
“You basically have to show that you have 32-inch openings into the room, if there is a walkway around the bed, if you have access to a bathroom,” said Patel.
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All information is detailed on the Inn at Golden Gate website. However, Garcia claims in his lawsuit that while attempting to book, he found “insufficient information … to independently assess” whether the room was right for him.
The complaint that Samuel Love filed against the Handlery Hotel also alleges that “insufficient information … to[aroom’independently”[einZimmer“unabhängigzubewerten“[aroom’independently”
The law firm behind both lawsuits is Potter Handy of San Diego. This year alone, the company has more than a thousand ADA registrations.
“I think you run a mill. They attack as many hotels as possible, ”said Raj Patel.
“The ADA works in such a way that it is only enforced privately. That can only happen if people do that, ”said Dennis Price, an attorney at Potter Handy. In a previous interview, Price told KPIX that website accessibility had become a more pressing issue during the pandemic.
“Many of my clients have severe disabilities that could have made it potentially very dangerous for them to go out. And so they did a lot more things on the internet, ”said Price.
The activist Ruthee Goldkorn, who runs the No Barriers counseling service for the disabled, finds nothing wrong with that.
“If they decide against it, there has to be a point where you have to get their attention,” explained Goldkorn. “It is an obstacle for retailers not to have an accessible website. So once again, sir, Econ 101. Please take my money! “
KPIX asked Goldkorn: “Hotels have been hit hard by the pandemic and some people say that is a double blow. You’re really knocking these people out of business. How do you react to that? “
“Nobody puts someone out of business. I have a shirt on my wall that says that accessibility is a right, not a privilege, ”replied Goldkorn. “And whether it’s a large hotel chain or a boutique hotel, there are legal requirements. These are not new laws. “
Jon Handlery, who has been sued before and usually just presents himself, was fed up this time. He pushed back and won. A federal judge dismissed Love’s lawsuit.
“The judge rejected it. She looked at the website and found that I was compliant, ”said Handlery.
Prabha Patel is still fighting it, but she remains confident.
“The case is being dropped because I know my rules, okay?” Said Patel.
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Potter Handy attorney Dennis Price reached out to KPIX 5 Monday afternoon, saying he had no comment on pending cases and none of their clients were interested in an interview.