Bills will protect against ADA lawsuits

By: Joyia Emard Loomis News Editor
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By Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R-Roseville) introduced two measures to curtail “frivolous” Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, according to a recent press release. Assembly Bill 1878 would give small businesses 120 days after a written notice of violation to correct an ADA violation before a lawsuit could be filed. Several Loomis businesses were hit a few years ago with lawsuits by disabled attorney Scott Johnson, of Sacramento, that cost them thousands of dollars in settlements fees with Johnson, even after making the changes. John Kintz, Town of Loomis building inspector, said he was aware of at least three businesses – Foothill Feed and Gift, Lorenzo’s restaurant and the now-closed Hardware Emporium – that were the target of Johnson lawsuits. He said Johnson cites Federal laws that many small business owners are not aware of. He said that cities and counties usually only require ADA changes when the property or building is renovated. Ted Greenfield, owner of Foothill Feed, said Johnson “sues for personal gain” and “didn’t give us time to fix anything. He just sued us for about $30,000. We were more than happy to comply, but we still had to pay him.” Greenfield said what Johnson sued him was for not having a designated handicapped parking spot, even though there were no striped parking spots in his lot. He also said Johnson complained because a bag of feed sitting on the floor made it difficult for a wheelchair to get past. Greenfield said he did some research at the time and found that Johnson had 30 cases in the court system when he sued Greenfield. “I figured he was making about $1 million a year on these cases,” Greenfield said. It was reported in the Auburn Journal, that recently Johnson hit a number of small mom and pop businesses in Auburn with lawsuits for ADA compliance issues. Gaines said 98 percent of California businesses are out of compliance and some businesses can be sued for simple faults, such as a railing height being off by a centimeter or parking lot striping not being the right shade of a particular color. “The unfortunate reality is that there are individuals who are capitalizing on the complex access regulations enacted by the state and federal government for personal benefit,” Gaines said in the press release. “Many times, businesses want to correct the error to allow for more access to their place of business. These frivolous lawsuits are making it harder for the business to come into compliance, especially in this difficult economic environment.” Gaines said she introduced a second measure, Assembly Bill 1879 to address the complicated and changing regulations that have made it confusing for some businesses to understand ADA compliance regulations. Gaines said if within that 120 days businesses completed a plan with a reasonable timeline to finish the improvements with a Certified Access Specialist, they could also protect themselves from being sued. She said small-business owners, like her, are committed to access for all people, but sometimes don’t have the chance to make improvements before expensive lawsuits force them to close their doors. “When a single individual has shut down one of our businesses overnight, there is something wrong,” Gaines said. “The problem is our current legislation allows for this abuse. The point is businesses want to be compliant.” AB 1879 would require the state architect to compile a list of all federal and state disability access regulations and identity any conflicts between the two. In a joint effort, Gaines and her husband, Senator Ted Gaines, are hosting an ADA compliance workshop for local business owners on March 26, in Rocklin. Gaines said especially in a difficult economy, businesses need to be protected while they make necessary changes to their buildings. She said she hopes business owners in her constituency will share their stories about ADA compliance issues and lawsuits by contacting her via email or telephone. Sara Seyydin contributed to this story