The Americans with Disabilities Act (often referred to as the ADA) is a federal law that ensures people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as those without disabilities. It is intended to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in public accomodations, commercial facilities and businesses, transportation, and employment.
The ADA includes specific definition of what constitutes a disability — namely, a condition that substantially limits a major life activity, such as walking, or feeding or dressing oneself. Disabilities under the ADA can be either mental or physical.
Specifically, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability. Also, business owners are required to provide disabled people reasonable access to their establishments. This can often take the form of making existing facilities more accessible to disabled patrons and employees, such as:
- Installing wheelchair ramps and handrails;
- Modifying bathroom stalls to be wheelchair accessible;
- Modifying work schedules; or
- Providing other reasonable accommodations for an employee’s situation.
ADA lawsuits are cases that involve claims of discrimination or a lack of reasonable accommodation as required under the the Americans with Disabilities Act. While many of these cases are legitimate, there are also incidents where a plaintiff may abuse the system. ADA lawsuit abuse may occur when a person files multiple lawsuits under the ADA, often without suffering real injuries.
A common example of ADA lawsuit abuse may involve a person visiting several business establishments with the intention of identifying ADA violations (such as a lack of handicapped parking spaces, or a lack of wheelchair ramps), and then suing the business for injuries.
In some cases, the person may drive by the establishment and look for violations outside or in the parking lot, and never even enter the establishment or attempt to conduct business there. These people can target several businesses at a time, often with an eye towards winning a large sum of money from the business for the claimed injuries.
Filing frivolous lawsuits can lead to legal penalties that include charges of contempt of court, monetary fines, and even possible criminal charges. Other penalties may also arise depending on your state’s laws.
Not only are frivolous lawsuits a waste of time, they are also a waste of resources. Courts are especially vexed when taxpayer money gets tied up in court hearings for frivolous lawsuits, and may issue strict penalties designed to discourage filing suits that have little to no basis in fact.
However, others contend that even if these cases are settled out of court, the plaintiffs in these ADA complaints are drawing attention to important issues for people with disabilities. They argue that litigation (or fear of litigation) has been a great force of change in getting businesses to install and properly designate parking spaces, ramps, handrails, and counters.
Many states and local municipalities have become aware of ADA lawsuit abuse, as these frivolous lawsuits have become something of a phenomenon in the court systems. This is largely due to the amounts that plaintiffs can win in some cases. Some areas have adjusted their local rules to combat the issue of ADA lawsuit abuse.
For example, some states have begun requiring that a plaintiff be responsible for the defendant’s legal fees if they lose the lawsuit. This is intended to deter people from filing lawsuits that have no basis in fact or that have a low likelihood of success in court. Other states have altered the minimum amount that a person must be claiming in order to file an ADA lawsuit. The reasoning is that this change subjects business owners to lesser penalties in the event that they are unsuccessful in court.
Some states are also considering altering their laws to help cut down on the threshold that allows predatory or abusive ADA lawsuits. For example, some states may allow small businesses time to cure or fix certain technical violations of the ADA without enduring a penalty. However, while this provision allows the business to avoid penalties from the authorities, they may still find themselves subject to an ADA lawsuit in civil court.
The ADA can be extremely complex, with hundreds of requirements outlined for businesses to follow in terms of accessibility to the public alone. If you are involved in a lawsuit that makes claims under the ADA, it is in your best interests to seek out the advice of an experienced personal injury or employment attorney.
It is even more important to consult a qualified attorney if you suspect that you are the target of a frivolous ADA lawsuit. The right attorney can help you understand the requirements of the ADA, analyze the situation you find yourself in, and help you present the best possible defense while defending your rights.