Community Commentary: Support bill to stop abusive ADA lawsuits

In Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, all around Orange County and California, unemployed workers feel helpless as they search for jobs that have disappeared. The politicians falsely tell the people that the unemployment rate is far lower than exists in the real world.

There is one way the unemployed and under-employed (and even the employed) can help: curbing abusive lawsuits that directly cost jobs.

Thousands of predatory Americans with Disability Act, or ADA, lawsuits continue to be filed against California small businesses by a destructive group of plaintiffs and lawyers who have twisted the disability laws and court system to extract monetary settlements from small business owners rather than improve access to the disabled.

These unwarranted lawsuits based on technical violations are just wrong. They cost jobs and push businesses out permanently or force them to leave California. Thankfully, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) is proposing a common sense bill, HR 881, "The ADA Notification Act of 2011," which would eliminate thousands of predatory ADA lawsuits and at the same time improve public access for disabled individuals.

Presently, enforcement of the act relies on private lawsuits, often through "drive-by" attorneys who file dozens of unwarranted ADA lawsuits daily suing small businesses up to $4,000 for each technical violation. These generate millions of dollars of unnecessary legal fees. Small businesses are forced to pay ransom fees to make the case go away without any real accessibility improvements.

Predatory lawsuits serve no purpose other than lining the pockets of those who use the loophole for their own personal gain.

In an attempt to fix the problem, the California Legislature passed a law three years ago creating the California Disability Access Commission, whose purpose is to ensure complete access to public places for the disabled while reducing unwarranted litigation.

Despite the commission's best intentions, the new ADA regulations remain long and complicated exceeding 500 pages of minutely detailed specifications that change yearly. Compliance with ADA standards is complex, difficult and expensive, even for the most conscientious businesses. Small businesses may pass inspections and even hire compliance specialists but still find themselves subject to an ADA lawsuit.

Hunter's proposal simply allows business owners to correct a potential ADA violation before costly litigation and court proceedings begin. It would require a plaintiff to provide a defendant with an opportunity to correct a violation of such title voluntarily before the plaintiff may commence a civil action. Hunter's proposal also dramatically improves ADA accessibility.

Of equal importance, simplification of ADA regulation benefits our economy. Many businesses have closed because of accessibility lawsuits and many more have unnecessarily spent tens of thousands of dollars litigating claims.

Small businesses are critical to California's economic recovery and strength. Nationally small businesses represent 99.7% of all employers and hire more than half of U.S. workers.

As our economy struggles to recover we need to funnel resources into job creation rather than costly and burdensome litigation. Representative Hunter understands that in California, we need more jobs, not more lawsuits.

MICHAEL ARNOLD GLUECK, M.D., of Newport Beach, writes on legal and medical issues locally and nationally.

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