Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shaking down the small business marketplace in the name of ADA

Tens of thousands of lawsuits have been filed against California small businesses in the past few years for matters related to the American Disability Act. Some of those cases are trivial. Whenever a business is out of compliance of ADA, one can file a suit to force a business to correct the fault while at the same time, the plaintiff and his/her lawyer can cash in on the awarded damages or settlement.

The ADA is a vital law for America's disabled. If a business is found to be out of compliance, it should be held accountable to fix the problem. However, fixing such problems through litigation goes way beyond the intended purpose of fixing non-compliancy and instead places many businesses in serious financial binds through expensive settlements or litigation. In fact, it has become a full-time job for some in the state to scout for businesses that are out of compliance, file a suit, and then capitalize from the settlement. Local Inland Empire establishments and businesses statewide, especially thriving and growing companies are targets for these suits. Groups of people simply want a share of their profits and they will exploit loopholes in the law to get it. Businesses therefore are in a position to budget more money for lawyers because of this situation. The added expenses weakens the job market because companies cannot afford to hire despite the fact that there is tons of work to be done to improve the Inland Empire's quality of life. Worse yet, if a business cannot afford to fight or settle such litigation, it may end up facing bankruptcy or closure. That is no sound way to enforce ADA.

A local television news station in Sacramento did an extensive investigation on this issue. Without small business growth and a strong competitive economy, job opportunities will stay low, salaries will be down, unemployment will still be high, and our transit systems will not have the resources to grow and flourish. That's a reality.

We the volunteers at The Transit Coalition are no lawyers and have no business interpreting ADA law at the state or national level. We'll thus keep our point simple. We and many fair-minded individuals well know that the current process of enforcing the landmark law unfairly obstructs small business growth. There's no question about it. To be fair, if a business patron or customer does sustain physical or economic damage as a result of non ADA-compliancy and can prove it beyond reasonable doubt in the court of law, it would be perfectly justifiable to file a claim or suit. However, if a plaintiff sues and the case is to be found frivolous, the suing party should be held fully liable for all attorney fees and court costs. Getting businesses to be ADA-compliant in general should be done through an alternative means other than the courts that won't cost them tens of thousands of dollars to fix on top of the modest costs to fix the problem.

A fair way to address this problem is to reform the law. Here's an idea to put up for debate. Set up the system in a way where a business that is found to be out of compliance of ADA law--either through a citizen complaint or code enforcement inspection--has 30 days to correct the problem. After 30 days, the enforcing government agency can levy fines for continued non-compliancy. That would be a fair idea that those in the state legislature and Congress should debate.

It is long past due for lawmakers to close this legal loophole so that the small business marketplace cannot be unfairly shaken down in the name of ADA law.

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