Democrats Kill Abusive Lawsuit Bill

JULY 8, 2011

By KATY GRIMES

Commentary

There have been several bills in the last few years authored to stop lawyers who file frivilous lawsuits and shakedown businesses for not having “adequate” Americans With Disabilities Act handicapped accessibility. Or who have access issues deemed “not adequate enough.”

Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Inland Empire) reports that emergency legislation which would have stopped these predatory lawyers from filing frivolous lawsuits against small businesses was killed by Democrats during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on July 5.

Democratic legislators are well known friends of trial lawyers, and receive 97 percent of all trial lawyer political contributions.

While Dutton’s bill honored the ADA laws already in place, Dutton said, “Senate Bill 783 would have required the owner of a property to be notified of an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) violation before a lawsuit could be filed.” The property owner would have had 120 days to fix the violation. If the violation(s) was not fixed within the timeframe, a lawsuit would then be allowed to move forward.”

California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse reports, “the Americans with Disabilities Act was meant to increase access for disabled people, but a few unscrupulous personal injury lawyers and professional plaintiffs have made fortunes by targeting businesses for shake down lawsuits. Oftentimes these lawsuits are filed when access has not been deterred in any way. These lawsuits don’t ask for any accessibility improvements to be made, they ask for money to make the lawsuit go away.”

The intent of ADA laws was to make sure that retail and public businesses made the appropriate changes to accommodate  handicapped persons in bathrooms, at public counters, in parking lots and garages, restaurants and the like.

Gross Abuse

However, the law has been so grossly abused that business owners are instead the victims of barely legal shakedowns.

I have followed Scott Johnson for several years, a quadriplegic Sacramento ADA lawyer notorious for his ruthless shakedowns of tiny businesses, including a local veterinarian, Sacramento area gas stations, an historic hamburger hangout and numerous other restaurants. Johnson has more than 1,000 lawsuits under his belt.

Johnson has defended his activity and claims to be “an agent of change for the rights of the disabled.” He usually “settles” cases for $4,000 and $6,000.

The typical Johnson approach is to send a letter to a business which states that the business must become ADA compliant. Johnson gives the business formal notice to make changes to the property, or offers to settle with Johnson monetarily to prevent a lawsuit — the shakedown part.

For businesses unaware of the guidelines, or which were compliant at one time and are now unaware of changes to the ADA guidelines, Johnson’s letters are a total shock and very costly.

In addition to paying Johnson off, many of Johnson’s victim businesses end up paying thousands of dollars in expensive remodeling to bathrooms; for entrance and exit doors; and for re-paving and painting parking lots, changing signage, or even having to install expensive wheelchair ramps.

The Squeeze Inn, an historic Sacramento hamburger spot, ended up closing its doors in 2009 because the funky building — with only 12 barstools at a counter — couldn’t be remodeled to accommodate wheelchair access.

Kimberly Block sued The Squeeze Inn and claimed she suffered “embarrassment and humiliation” and that her civil rights were violated because she could not fit her wheelchair inside the restaurant. Her lawsuit against The Squeeze Inn was the third ADA lawsuit she filed that year.

Anyone driving up to The Squeeze Inn would instantly recognize that the building looked more like an outhouse than a restaurant, and did a fantastic take-out business. But the size apparently made it easy fodder for the litigious.

Jason Singleton, Block’s attorney and another notorious Sacramento ADA lawyer identified as one of the top ADA lawsuit filers in California, has shut down many restaurants with these ADA lawsuits.

The owners of The Squeeze Inn made every attempt to accommodate patrons, and would deliver orders right to the car upon request. They reopened down the street, but their new location is no longer in a funky building, which was part of the ambiance. However, reports that their burgers are as good as ever must be true, since they have several locations now.

SB 743

Dutton’s bill sought to stop this lawsuit abuse while maintaining the integrity of the ADA laws as well as compliance.

There are hundreds of lawyers just like Johnson and Singleton in every county throughout California, preying on small business owners while earning a substantial living.

“These lawyers are committing what amounts to extortion on the business community and hiding behind the ADA laws as justification,” said Dutton after the hearing. “They are an embarrassment to their profession. They are not serving the needs of the ADA community and, ultimately, they are killing jobs in California. This problem will not go away and I hope the majority party will work with me to find a solution to this serious issue.”

Democratic Senators Mark Leno (San Francisco), Noreen Evans (Santa Rosa) and Ellen Corbett (San Leandro) were the deciding votes killing the bill in the Judiciary committee.  All three senators have received sizable campaign contributions from trial lawyers, and lawyers are listed as the “Top 10 interests Funding” on each of their campaign contribution pages (click on the Senator’s name to see contributions at Maplight.org).

Dutton, on the other hand, does not have lawyers listed in his top 10 list of funders.

Larry Venus, Dutton’s Press Secretary, said that next year they will introduce the bill again and are hopeful that Democrats will work with them. Democrats never offered amendments to Dutton’s bill, reported Venus, nor did they offer to even work with Dutton on it.

Meanwhile, busy ADA lawyers will be allowed to shake down more California businesses for another year in an already failing state, listed as the worst place in the country to do business.

 

8 comments

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  1. GSL
    GSL 8 July, 2011, 12:41

    All true, but it’s important to remember that the ADA hurts the handicapped as well as businesses. If employers have to worry about ADA suits when they hire handicapped workers, they’ll be less likely to do so. So the law actually makes it harder for these folks to find work.

    Reply this comment
  2. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 8 July, 2011, 13:00

    The ADA laws have absolutely hurt the handicapped as well as businesses – there is no disagreement about that. Anytime the government gets involved under the guise of creating assistance for one particular group, other’s rights are trampled on. And the intended “help” is usually a farce and cover for government expansion. Affirmative action comes to mind…

    However, because lawyers have created a cottage industry out of suing employers under ADA compliance, this needs to be stopped.

    Any discussion about how damaging ADA laws are in general, is worthy of a dedicated story.

    – Katy

    Reply this comment
  3. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 9 July, 2011, 20:37

    The ADA has been law for over 20 years now. If the people who claim to have enough smarts and gumption to run a business can’t figure out how to follow the law by now, they should be sued as often as it takes to educate them.

    The reason ADA included a private right of action was to prevent the creation of a federal enforcement mechanism, but still ensure the laws requirements are met.

    Avoiding a lawsuit isn’t rocket science. Read the law, get the free compliance information that’s easily available, and make the necessary changes to accommodate disabled patrons. Otherwise, don’t whine because you’re too stupid or lazy to understand national requirements more than two decades old, which were signed into law by a pro-business Republican President.

    Reply this comment
  4. Jonathan Beachum
    Jonathan Beachum 8 December, 2011, 08:29

    I read these articles all the time and they’re all the same. No one knew they were out of compliance yet by now most business owners are aware of these lawsuits yet take no action to protect their livelihood. There are many companies like mine that inspect business and help them become compliant with the laws to avoid these problems yet over 90% of our clients have lawsuits pending. Why do business owners wait? We do basic parking lot inspection for $250, most striping jobs are under $1,200 and these lawsuit settlements average $4,000-$6,000. Better to put the money into your business than give it to attorneys. (www.adahelpforum.com)

    Reply this comment
  5. K
    K 2 February, 2012, 08:42

    While I’m sure there are businesses who don’t put a lot of thought into ADA compliance, many do. And many think they are in compliance. Skippingdog here needs a bit of a lesson in just what businesses are up against especially in the state of California.

    My business was handicap accessible. We had the correct door, the sloped access, the handicap parking, the large bathroom, etc. While I would have loved to have put in a second bathroom that was an impossibility due to the size needed to accommodate a wheelchair so we had to endure long lines during busy times.

    Then came a Scott Johnson letter, vaguely hinting that we were not in compliance. He wouldn’t specify but then he couldn’t because he had not been in the business himself. What he saw was that we were not aware of any changes to the handicap parking laws that took place in 2007/2008 and still had the old sign and striping.

    So, we contacted him. Let him know we were looking into where in our already handicap accessible business we were out of compliance with new laws which were quietly enacted. Turns out we had to upgrade the slope of our entrance by a 1/4 of an inch and move the toilet (with plumbing set in concrete) by 1/2 inch.

    I dare anyone to prove to me that either of these things would have constituted a barrier.

    California has no entity to assist existing businesses with ADA laws, new ADA laws or changes to ADA laws. This needs to change. I would join any class action lawsuit against the state of California to force a change so that small business owners who are trying and who think they are in compliance are not constantly being shaken down by predatory lawyers the likes of Scott N. Johnson.

    Reply this comment
  6. JKT
    JKT 22 March, 2012, 14:50

    Another preview of coming attractions to the “Nanny State”. Atty. Johnson gets sympathy because he himself has quadriplegia, but never the less, is shaking down the public. This is a classic example of massive gov’t intrusion into the small business, free market environment. These clowns hide behind rigid laws and ordinances in order to line their pockets. “Big Brother” cannot have too much gov’t oversight and/or intrusion and the current left-wing California and federal agendas have more of this on the way. Ideally these socialist types want everybody either working for or being taken care of by some sort of bureaucracy. This ADA reg being ramed down the throats of the small business is to soften us up for more invasive, draconian measures or
    , for example, the more dramatic media “race-baiting” antics of the reverends Jackson or Sharpton.

    Reply this comment
  7. Skippyone
    Skippyone 11 April, 2012, 21:04

    This is extortion plain and simple. Our small community has about 7 businesses left. We just all got served. This is surely the doom of the last of us.

    Reply this comment
  8. myfoxmystere
    myfoxmystere 13 June, 2012, 09:15

    These clowns aren’t going to be happy when Heidi Cuda of KTTV Fox 11 Los Angeles gets wind of this. She is doing a series on FOX 11 called “Saving California” and has taken a road trip, doing reports from Texas’ Governor Rick Perry to Sacramento California. I will send her a heads up via Twitter.

    Reply this comment

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