Help protect our local small businesses from predatory ADA lawsuits

Since 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act has required improved accessibility for disabled individuals, resulting in substantial benefits for those individuals, their families, and their communities. Those with disabilities have enjoyed the freedom of improved access to businesses, transportation, and institutions that they depend on.

Like many new mandates, however, the Americans with Disabilities Act has resulted in some unexpected consequences, one of which has become all too familiar for many California residents and businesses. Under the ADA, businesses and institutions are required to bring their facilities into compliance with prescribed standards that range from things such as size and colors of signs for handicapped parking places to the physical design of restrooms, ramps, and other structural features. While ADA standards are a requirement for new construction, and large corporate businesses have the resources to ensure that their facilities are retrofitted to comply with ADA standards, many small businesses—through occupancy of older structures that may not be compliant or simply through lack of knowledge of ADA standards—may fail to meet ADA construction requirements.

As a result, a cottage industry of opportunistic lawyers has emerged. Their business model is a simple one: Target a small business, survey it for any detectable violations, file a lawsuit, and hope for a quick settlement as the business owner faces the difficult choice of an extended and expensive legal battle or of making a payment to settle the case. This has resulted in great economic stress for a growing number of small California businesses, resulting in many closures and job losses with little hope for relief seen—until the introduction of Senate Bill 585.

SB 585 preserves all of the protections and standards of the ADA but affords small businesses, those with 50 or fewer employees, a 120-day window of opportunity to bring their facilities into compliance following notice of the filing of a lawsuit. If compliance is achieved within those 120 days, the business owner receives relief from statutory penalties, attorney’s fees, and other costs associated with the lawsuit.

SB 585 has received broad bipartisan support in the state Senate, including the support of our own state Sen. Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara). As it moves to the state Assembly, it must continue to receive bipartisan support if California’s small businesses are to receive the relief it promises. It is of great importance that our own Assembly member, Gregg Hart (D-Santa Barbara), support passage of SB 585. If you would like to help protect small businesses in our local communities and throughout the state, please advise Assemblymember Hart of your wishes. You may do so by leaving a message with his Sacramento office at (916) 319-2037 or with his Santa Barbara office at (805) 564-1649.

Please join us in our efforts to protect California’s vital small businesses from predatory lawsuits.

Roy Reed
board president,
Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association

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