CJAC: Civil Justice Association of California

Oct 3, 2011

CJAC Calls for Reform as Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week Begins

Californians Need More Protection from Costly Lawsuits

SACRAMENTO - The Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC) is asking Californians to recognize the impact of excessive litigation in our state as Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week begins today. CJAC is renewing its call for reforming California laws that make it easier for plaintiffs’ attorneys to sue and receive unjust fee awards at the expense of our state’s businesses and public agencies.

While there is no shortage of examples of lawsuit abuse in California, here are a few examples from the past year worthy of special mention:

  • The more than 200 lawsuits filed retroactively against California retailers that had asked for customers’ zip codes during transactions that took place prior to the state Supreme Court settling the dispute over whether this should be private information (read more here).
  • In Coachella Valley, the local hot-air balloon industry was decimated by baseless lawsuits over the past two years by a couple who claimed the balloons were illegally flying over their property. When the FAA found no violations, the couple sued the FAA. The suits were then dropped this past August, but the hot-air-balloon businesses, one of which accrued $177,000 in legal fees, went from contributing $10 million to the local economy at its peak in 2005-06 to just over $500,000 last year (read more here).
  • A Los Angeles man with a long criminal record who has filed over 160 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits against small business owners because of his “end-stage emphysema”, only to be caught by ABC 7 News this past August hiking daily up a steep hill without a wheelchair, walker, or oxygen tank (read more here).
  • A discrimination suit filed against a Studio City sushi restaurant for including rice in its “all-you-can-eat” sushi deal and refusing to provide “all-you-can-eat” fish to the diabetic plaintiff, who was willing to drop the suit for a payment of $6,000 (read more here).

“I would encourage lawmakers to look more closely in the coming year at lawsuit abuse and the ways we can reduce it,” CJAC President Kim Stone said. “It is important to remember that small businesses are so often targeted and have the most at stake given their limited resources. Small businesses incur 83% of the tort costs in America even though they only bring in 22% of business revenues, according to the Institute for Legal Reform. If we want businesses to do more hiring, we are going to need to reduce these costs.”

CJAC has pushed for a number of reforms to address lawsuits likes these and abuse that takes place in a number of other categories, including:

  • Changing the vexatious litigant statute so that it applies not only to plaintiffs that represent themselves but those represented by attorneys as well, which could have helped protect the hot-air balloon industry in Coachella Valley.
  • Allowing a brief period of time for business owners notified of alleged disabled access violations to make fixes before they can be sued to protect against exploitation by plaintiffs like the Los Angeles man who allegedly has end-stage emphysema.
  • Leveling the playing field in class actions by allowing both defendants and plaintiffs to appeal a judges’ class certification decision, rather than just the plaintiffs as is current law.
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