Byline: Rep. Ted Poe
Doughnuts to Go is a small family-owned shop in California managed by Lee Ky. Like any small business, its success depends on the hard work and grit of the folks who run it. Her success was threatened in 2012 when Doughnuts to Go was sued by ADA trolls for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The lawsuit alleged minute violations, including: a mislabeled table, door handles being off by a few centimeters and the trashcan in the bathroom being in the wrong place. Lee was outraged and surprised by this lawsuit. Even more so because she is disabled herself, confined to a wheelchair and runs her store without any barriers to access. Lee was targeted by a serial plaintiff who never set foot in her store and whoalso sued nearly 80 other businesses in the area. Unfortunately, Lee is not alone. The fact is that there is a whole industry made up of people who prey on and strong-arm small businesses in order to make money off of ADA lawsuits. To these trolls, it is about making money, not helping the disabled.
In 1990, the ADA was signed into law, a monumental step to improve access and equality for all citizens in this country. Now, after 25 years of progress and advancement, the integrity of this landmark legislation is being threatened by a handful of attorneys and plaintiffs.
Small businesses are the life-blood of our communities. The vast majority of them strive to serve their customers to the best of their ability – relying on the ADA as another tool to help ensure that customers with disabilities can enjoy the services that they provide. However, despite their best attempts, certain attorneys and their pool of serial plaintiffs look for minor, easily correctable ADA infractions so they can file a lawsuit and make some cash.
Faced with the threat of a lawsuit for minor infractions, small businesses often find themselves in a dilemma. They have few choices: settle, pay fees that match those of lengthy and expensive litigation, or spend time and money to go through the legal process. This becomes a lose-lose situation very quickly.
At face value, these “drive-by” lawsuits are an easy way for both plaintiff and attorney to make a quick buck. In many cases, a single plaintiff signs onto multiple cases, alleging violations at businesses and properties where that plaintiff may have never set foot. In California, for example, one serial plaintiff has filed nearly 1,000 lawsuits. Some of these lawsuits are filed by plaintiffs that have never been in the business, or even live in the state. The abuse is evident.
Unfortunately, these lawsuits are on the rise nationwide. What’s more is that local and state courts across the country are finding themselves inundated with these “drive-by” lawsuits; some have created special rules just to deal with the sheer volume of drive-by cases being heard. Because of this, local legislatures are taking notice and have begun to take action. The ADA, however, is a federal law, and as such, Congress must remedy the harmful practice of “drive-by” lawsuits targeting small businesses.
This is why I am introducing the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015, H.R. 3765; legislation that will provide business owners with an opportunity to remedy alleged ADA infractions before being saddled within legal fees. Business owners will have a 120-day window within which to make any necessary public accommodation corrections and updates to their businesses. If the business owner fails to correct the infractions, the plaintiff retains all of their rights to pursue legal action under the ADA. This legislation restores the purpose of the ADA: to provide access and accommodation to disabled Americans, not to fatten the wallets of ADA trolls.
This bill also includes a measure aimed at bringing state and local governments, business owners, and disability advocacy groups together to improve access for the disabled community through improved education and compliance. H.R.3765 will serve as a vital partner to the ADA and will provide property owners and members of the disability community the opportunity to work together to increase the effectiveness of the ADA.
The goal of this legislation is to make all businesses comply with the ADA----not to be a cash cow for litigants that never have set foot in Doughnuts to Go. This bill represents a common sense solution to a very real problem facing countless businesses across this country. It is time to restore the ADA’s integrity and ensure its survival for another quarter century and beyond.
Poe has represented Texas’ 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs committees.