Roughly 30 business owners from in and around Lodi gathered at the Hampton Inn & Suites on Wednesday morning to learn how to avoid attempts from serial litigants targeting their businesses for being out of compliance with disability laws.
Paul Klein and Mark Wood, of California Certified Accessibility Specialists, Inc., and attorney Rebecca Dietzen spoke with business owners or local employees about the benefits of keeping their facilities up-to-date with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that specifies various requirements businesses must meet to accomodate persons with disabilities.
Not only did Klein and Wood touch on how to stay in compliance, they gave specific examples that they said could help businesses avoid further legal disputes.
They also gave specific examples of unexpected items that would not be considered ADA compliant.
Klein said items such as round door knobs and vending machines that are not accessible to persons who are disabled could render a business technically out of compliance.
Those items can allow people like Scott Johnson or George Louie — who have recently slapped businesses in Lodi with lawsuits — to legally sue even though it can be “annoying” to business owners.
“If your building is not compliant, there is not a whole lot I can do for you,” Dietzen said. “If your building is not in compliance, you will lose (the suit).”
Dietzen said while civil rights and improving disability compliance is at the heart of some cases, individuals like Scott Johnson and George Louie, whom she called “serial litigants,” were more focused on reaping the benefits of the lawsuit.
According to Dietzen, most ADA lawsuits are settled for $5,000.
But in addition to the settlement payment, business owners also have to pay their lawyer and any other legal fees associated with the case.
“In a nutshell, if something can be updated on your building, do it,” Dietzen said. “Spend money on your building, not on (legal) fees or lawyers.”
Klein said while businesses do try to stay in compliance with ADA policy, a majority of business owners tend to only be in compliance with federal ADA laws and not state laws, which tend to be more stringent and change more often.
According to Klein, California ADA codes change every three years, whereas the federal ADA laws have not changed since they were enacted in 1991.
The most common reason businesses get sued? Parking and counter spaces, according to Wood.
“Dimensions and measurement change so often, but it is worth it to pay the $50 to restripe your parking lot versus the $5,000 you will pay to settle a lawsuit,” he said.
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.