Thursday, July 25

AZ Lawmakers Take Aim At Attorneys Who File Disability Lawsuits

Earlier this month, hundreds of new laws debuted in Arizona. One, in particular, has been subject to quite a bit of debate in recent years and involves local businesses that are being sued for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But instead of punishing the businesses, this law actually restricts who can file lawsuits pertaining to issues of disability access.

Lawmakers found that instead of protecting Americans who are living with disabilities, these lawsuits are often an attempt by attorneys to make a quick buck. Since 2013, filings connected to alleged ADA violations have spiked by 150%. In Arizona, according to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, there were more than 2,000 “copy-and-paste type lawsuits” like these clogging the state’s court system in 2015, when Brnovich took office. He alleges that an organization called the Advocates for Individuals With Disabilities is chiefly responsible for filing many of these lawsuits in Arizona.

While half of all customers who enter a business do so because of signage, Brnovich told Forbes that minor mistakes on signs were one of the chief complaints this organization made in their suits.

“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are literally hundreds of pages of regulations that sometimes are the minutiae of what angle a ramp must be at, how high a sign must be at, what signs must say,” explained Brnovich. “Sometimes, you would get a small business that would have a handicapped placard sign, but wouldn’t have the necessary language such as ‘van accessible even though the space is clearly marked or they wouldn’t have the international [handicapped] symbol… Under the ADA regulations, the bottom of a sign must be a minimum of 60 inches above the ground. This group AID would sue even when the signs were just a few inches too low.”

Usually, Brnovich explained, the AID sent letters to Arizona businesses and demanded thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees and damages. AID publicly announced last year that the average settlement came out to $4,000 and that the organization made $800,000 as a result of these actions. Judging from the 500 new lawsuits the organization filed against Arizona businesses in August 2016 alone, Brnovich said it was clear that AID was using their settlement money to sue even more people.

As a result, the state has cracked down on these kinds of frivolous lawsuits. A new law, known as SB 1406, amends the Arizonans with Disabilities Act to allow businesses to have 90 days to correct any structural accessibility violations before a lawsuit can be filed. It also exempts websites from state accessibility requirements.

While the ADA contains priceless protections for those with disabilities, the new law aims to stop greedy filers from targeting otherwise compliant businesses.

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