Breaking down the process of an ADA Accessibility lawsuit, with general step-by-step actions of the Plaintiff (disabled person suing) and the Defendant (small business owner). The last thing you want to have happen as a small business owner, is hearing the knock at your door and being served a lawsuit for ADA violations. Something small and inexpensive to fix can turn into a nightmare and a very costly situation. We are often asked what the process of an ADA/Accessibility lawsuit is, so in this chapter of our mini-series we will look into the steps that lead to being in front of a judge and jury of your own peers, and possibly facing big fines. This can happen to you, there are professional Plaintiff’s searching for small businesses like yours to take advantage of the situation! We have heard countless stories of small business owners and landlords avoiding small repairs, like in a parking lot which would have cost less than $2500, result in lawsuits of over $100,000 in fines and fees. And they happen every day.
Step 1 – A disabled plaintiff visits a business and notes violations in the parking lot as they pull into park, and in the interior of the business. Are the parking lot markings correct? Is the Asphalt cracking? Does the curb ramp to the sidewalk meet ADA requirements? All things we have discussed in the first 3 parts? While entering the building clearance violations at the door are noted. Once in the interior of the business, they can note if it is accessible to move through isles clearly, is the transaction counter too high, or is the restroom accessible? All these things may be “readily achievable”. This is considered to be the “low hanging fruit” for the professional plaintiff, who looks for businesses to target as a way of making a living.
Step 2 – Disgruntled customer, or professional plaintiff leaves your place of business and seeks the advice of an attorney, who advises them to file a civil action lawsuit seeking damages for each violation they have found. On top of that the Plaintiff can demand that the property be inspected for any other ADA violations that may not have been noticed by the Plaintiff in the initial visit. So something that might have started with a couple simple violations can quickly lead to a complete dissection of your business and dozens of violations.
Step 3 – You are served the papers, and have a court date set. In the meantime, you have to consult with an attorney as well, which takes time and of course, money. You prepare for the case. Court day, the Plaintiffs attorney has handed you a list of additional violations, and the demand from the Plaintiff for damages for not only every violation ($4000), but also for all their attorney and court fees. This can add up to Tens of Thousands of dollars and precious time away from the business, and possibly bad publicity. The judge issues an award for damages for each violation charged, and court and attorney fees for Plaintiff to be returned. Something small has now just turned into something very BIG!
The moral to the story is this. These lawsuits are real and are happening to small business owners across California. They can make or break your business financially. Simple fixes such as repairing cracked parking lot asphalt or providing the correct signage and markings can stop lawsuits. By making sure aisles and entrances are up to code you can keep professional plaintiffs from targeting your business. Most importantly let a professional check your business for you, and keep you safe. By contacting an experienced and knowledgably CASp inspector and having an expert go through your business and make sure you are compliant can save you a lot of hassle and ultimately save your business. Don’t neglect these things that seem small because what is small and repairable now, can become an expensive nightmare in the future.
Bill Holl is the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier ADA consultant with over 45 years of experience as an Architect. He specializes in providing Silicon Valley CASp Inspection and ADA Compliance services across South Bay cities including San Jose, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Los Gatos, Campbell and more. He also provides ADA compliance consulting throughout most areas of California including Monterey, Carmel, Santa Cruz, Sacramento, Gilroy and the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Give us a call today to schedule your consultation, and let us keep your business protected from fines and lawsuits.