A San Diego attorney has filed nearly 100 lawsuits against small businesses in San Jose, an effort—according to downtown Councilman Sam Liccardo—to shake them down for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“This is an abuse of a well-intended law,” says Liccardo, who will host a workshop tonight to put targeted business owners in touch with legal help to defend themselves. “The law appropriately protects the rights and access of people with disabilities, but like all laws, it can be abused by lawyers who have enough time on their hands.”
The Center for Disability Access, a San Diego law firm, and two plaintiffs are behind 94 lawsuits filed against San Jose businesses since 2012, says Liccardo aide Fred Buzo. A call to the law firm was not immediately returned.
Many of these businesses may have actually violated the federal law requiring physical access for people with disabilities, Liccardo notes. The problem is that these lawsuits often demand settlements, which don’t fix the violations. They just leave businesses with that much less to bring their buildings up to code.
The OC Register reported a similar string of litigation in and around San Diego last year, saying that some people make a living by casting a net of civil suits, hoping one or several pony up with a settlement.
Just a couple months ago, News 10 reported a spate of cases in Northern California, including some in San Jose filed by Los Gatos-based attorney Randy Moore. Moore reportedly filed dozens of lawsuits a year in his brother’s name, an attempt to promote better access for people with disabilities, he told the TV news station.
Moore Law Firm tells San Jose Inside that the attorneys at the SoCal law office are strong advocates for handicap access.
“They will likely be characterized as ‘out-of-towners’ attacking San Jose, but the law firm is not where the focus should be, nor even on the plaintiff,” says Marejka Sacks, a paralegal at Moore Law. “I truly believe [the responsibility] belongs on the businesses—if they were in compliance, there would be nothing about which to sue.”
Moore Law released a white paper about the media characterization of these lawsuits as predatory.
“For the ADA to yield its promise of equal access for the disabled, it may indeed be necessary and desirable for committed individuals to bring serial litigation advancing the time when public accommodations will be compliant with the ADA,” the paper states.
A state law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012 was supposed to crack down on frivolous ADA litigation. Bill 1186 outlawed sending letters to business owners threatening to sue unless they agreed to settle.
In San Jose, many of the lawsuits this past year centered on retailers and restaurants around downtown and Japantown, Buzo says.
To learn about how to make a business ADA compliant, read these recommendations from the California Commission on Disability Access.
WHAT: Meeting about serial ADA lawsuits
WHEN: 6:30pm tonight
WHERE: Room 120, City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: Fred Buzo, 408.535.4931 or [email protected]