Serial ADA plaintiff targets eating places with tables outdoor

Tony Han’s Tai Pan restaurant on 560 Waverley St. in downtown Palo Alto has been hit by a lawsuit alleging ADA violations, but he says the plaintiff never visited his restaurant. His insurance won’t cover the damage, so he is seeking assistance from other restaurants and the city of Palo Alto for help and change the law. Post a photo of Braden Cartwright.

This story first appeared in the August 5th print edition of the Daily Post. To get the local news first, get the Daily Post in the morning at 1,000 locations across the central peninsula.

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A plaintiff, who has filed thousands of lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act, takes advantage of local restaurants that have moved outside by claiming their tables are inaccessible and claiming financial damage.

The lawsuits come at an inopportune time for ailing restaurants that are likely to settle for thousands of dollars.

Scott Johnson, a paraplegic attorney who filed more than 1,500 ADA lawsuits in Northern California this year, has sued dozens of restaurants in the central peninsula.

His lawsuits, filed by the San Diego-based law firm Potter Handy, follow a similar pattern. They claim Johnson visited the restaurants twice in April and once in June, partially motivated to see if they were complying with accessible laws. He claims the restaurants failed to provide wheelchair-accessible outdoor dining areas. The tables didn’t have adequate knee and toe spacing, and some were too high, preventing Johnson from accessing the services that others could use.

The vast majority of lawsuits are settled for around $ 10,000 as it is the cheapest option for companies when there is an actual breach. Some stores have closed after being sued.

“There are two types of companies: those that have been sued and those that should be sued if you haven’t brought your company into compliance,” Attorney Martin Orlick said at a town hall meeting on ADA lawsuits brought by Mountain View Chamber of Commerce last week.

Johnson is the most prolific ADA plaintiff in the country, Orlick said. He files around 100 lawsuits a month.

Tax fraud charges

Johnson was charged with tax fraud in 2019, but that didn’t stop him. The Justice Department alleged that he had not adequately reported the taxable income he received from litigation and arbitration awards. A process is planned for April 2022.
Calls and emails to Johnson and Potter cell phones were not answered.

The ADA requires that at least 5% of the seats are accessible for people with disabilities. The code can be enforced by individuals and is usually enforced mainly by a few specialized law firms that represent a small segment of the disabled community.

During the pandemic, restaurants are more prone to breach as they rearranged their layout and added outdoor seating.

Business owners wonder if Johnson has ever visited them and they are upset about the surprise suits.

Did Johnson even visit the restaurant?

Tony Han, who has owned Tai Pan in downtown Palo Alto with his family since 2008, was served last week. He said his restaurant staff would love to host any disabled guest, but he’s not convinced Johnson ever visited. He said he was concerned that his other restaurants would be served and that his insurance would not cover costs.

“We are powerless against that individually,” Han said.
He hopes to persuade Palo Alto to step in with financial assistance or legal representation as the city supported small businesses during the pandemic.

If not, he will try to organize restaurant owners with a joint lawyer.

“The lawsuits are devastating,” said realtor Sam Arsan, who manages three sued properties. “A lot of these smaller companies don’t have a lot of resources, and it’s worse with Covid … to some extent it’s blackmail.”
Usually the lawsuits accompany letters from opposing law firms promising to save restaurants money.

Ken Van Vleck, a Mountain View attorney, said most of these lawsuits are not frivolous and the ADA violations should be addressed.

“Almost certainly there are likely to be some benefits to the things that are listed in the lawsuit and you need to make those changes and deal with the lawsuit,” he said.

He recommended hiring a certified access specialist to ensure companies are compliant.

ADA attorneys have also beaten San Francisco’s Chinatown, and Mayor London Breed pledged $ 500,000 to help traders update the code.

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