Sen. Feinstein calls on state to curb 'abusive lawsuits' over ADA
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has written to the leader of the California Senate, calling for the state to adopt legislation that would curb what she calls abusive lawsuits filed by private attorneys against small businesses for minor violations of disabled-access laws, and warning that if the state doesn’t act, she will.
Feinstein said some attorneys are filing "abusive lawsuits," and "coercive demand letters" to force small businesses to pay thousands of dollars over often-minor noncompliance with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and the state Unruh Civil Rights Act.
"The shakedown tactics used by these lawyers may place a financial strain on businesses and counterproductively leave them unable to afford to make required access improvements,'' Feinstein wrote.
She noted that in Redlands, 22 businesses were sued by the same attorney for allegedly failing to post a sign next to the handicapped parking spaces that informed parking violators they would be towed. The business owners settled the cases in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $14,000, Feinstein wrote.
Feinstein said she is eager for a state solution, but warned state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), "I will consider introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate if this problem cannot be solved by the California State Legislature.''
Steinberg wrote back that the California Legislature shares her concerns and approved a measure in 2008 that helps businesses come into compliance and makes it tougher to sue. The state leader disputed Feinstein’s contention that SB 1186 by state Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) is a possible answer. The bill would require those seeking disabled access to first notify the business of a violation, and then give it 120 days to correct the problem, during which time the firm could not be sued.
"The disabled rights community, along with other civil rights communities, objected strongly to any 'right-to-cure' law that would allow longstanding ADA and Unruh Civil Rights violations to continue uncorrected until there is a notice of violation, and then relieve the business of any liability for that violation if the violation is corrected in the allotted cure period," Steinberg wrote.
Dutton is "very encouraged'' to have the backing of a powerful Democrat, said spokeswoman Jann Taber. "It validates that there is abuse,'' she said.
--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento
Photo: Sen. Dianne Feinstein is demanding that state officials do something about lawsuits against small businesses over disabled access. Photo credit: Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images