CJAC: Civil Justice Association of California

Jun 8, 2011

CJAC Applauds Legislative Proposal Addressing Disabled Access Lawsuit Abuse

SB 783 Allows Time to Make Adjustments Before Lawsuits Can Be Filed

SACRAMENTO - The Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC) is strongly supporting legislation introduced this week by Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) that would provide some relief for Californians from abusive disabled access lawsuits.

Senate Bill 783 would require a potential plaintiff to notify a property owner of an alleged violation. The owner would then have 30 days to respond with a plan to fix the problem or with a rebuttal to the allegations. If the owner decides to fix the problem, he or she would have 120 days to do so. If the improvements were not made within 120 days, the plaintiff could then file suit.

“Access for the disabled is the law, and is righteous and necessary,” said CJAC President Kim Stone. “Unfortunately, some lawyers are profiting through exploitative lawsuits that do not improve access. Giving property owners 120 days to make the improvements is a reasonable approach that will accomplish the goal of disabled access without putting an undue strain on small businesses that are sometimes facing a choice between reaching a settlement or shutting down.”

California law goes above and beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Under California’s Unruh Act, individuals may recover $4,000 per violation, plus attorney fees. That creates a situation that can be exploited by lawyers looking for technical violations because there is a high incentive for property owners to settle rather than go through costly litigation.

Legislation enacted in California in 2008, SB 1608, enacted several reforms to help businesses meet their obligations and avoid litigation. However, there continue to be serial filers across the state.

“There are numerous cases that have been documented where individuals go from business to business looking for violations, filing hundreds or even thousands of claims,” Stone added. “They know that they can take advantage of our law for financial gain because so many business owners will just settle to make the case go away. The problem is there is no enforcement to make sure the improvements needed actually occur. That has led to a trend of ‘drive-by’ ADA lawsuits where lawyers gets their settlement money and just move on to the next target. This is not the way to improve disabled access.”

The introduction of SB 783 comes after a proposal in Congress this year by California Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), H.R. 881, that would provide a 90-day window to make necessary ADA improvements.

SB 783 is written as an urgency measure, meaning it would take effect immediately upon being signed into law, and will now go before the State Senate for consideration.

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