Americans with Disabilities Act Frivolous Lawsuits

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Americans with Disabilities Act Frivolous Lawsuits

“Easy money with the help of the courts is bound to attract opportunists.” – David Warren Peters, CEO and General Counsel of Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuse

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed July 26, 1990 as Public Law 101-336 and became effective on January 26, 1992. The ADA is federal legislation that opens up services and employment opportunities to Americans with disabilities. The law was written to strike a balance between the reasonable accommodation of citizens’ needs and the capacity of private and public entities to respond. It is intended to eliminate illegal discrimination and level the playing field for disabled individuals.

California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse reports, “the Americans with Disabilities Act was meant to increase access for disabled people, but a few unscrupulous personal injury lawyers and professional plaintiffs have made fortunes by targeting businesses for shake down lawsuits. These lawsuits don’t ask for any accessibility improvements to be made, they ask for money to make the lawsuit go away.”

California, along with Hawaii, Illinois and Florida, is a particular hotbed for ADA lawsuits and the law firms that bring them to court. California has one of the largest amount of ADA lawsuits in the country, citing several factors for potential abuse, chief among them two California statutes that provide $1,000 or $4,000 in minimum damages, plus attorney fees, per each successful claimant. Many claimants multiply these damage amounts by the number of conditions they observe at a property. This frequently results in $50,000 or more in damage demands. Some serial claimants will file for damages against dozens of businesses they say they have visited on the same day or for repeated visits to an establishment.

Jarek Molski was disabled in a 1985 motorcycle accident that left him a paraplegic. He has filed 400 lawsuits against businesses under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging access violations. He was dubbed a “hit-and-run plaintiff” in 2004 by a federal judge and barred from filing any more lawsuits.

Molski’s attorney, Thomas Frankovich, says his client and the dozen or so serial ADA plaintiffs his firm has represented are activists and crusaders. Frankovich dubbed Molski (who does not have a criminal record) “the sheriff” because “he started going into town to clean it up.” Frankovich says he has filed 223 ADA lawsuits on behalf of Molski. Frankovich says Molski began suing only after his letters to offending businesses were ignored. Says Frankovich: “Letters don’t work. Only the hammer of litigation gets them to do what they need.”

But Frankovich himself is being charged by the state bar of California on three counts of misconduct, stemming from ADA lawsuits he filed on behalf of Molski. One count alleges that Frankovich’s litigation strategy amounted to a “scheme to extort money from defendants.” Says Frankovich of the charge: “It’s an absolute fabrication based on absolutely no supportive facts. Using the fact that he filed 223 lawsuits as evidence of a scheme is absurd. His rights were violated in 223 cases where significant architectural barriers existed.”

Disabled plaintiffs in cases like this will team up with a trial attorney. The disabled person will go out to restaurants and other public facilities to specifically look for access violations. The trial attorney will file a lawsuit on his behalf. The location owner may then be looking at over $100,000 in repair costs and legal fees.

After the suit has been filed, the attorney in league with the disabled person would call up the owner and arrange for a $5000 to $10,000 out of court settlement to make the lawsuit go away. It would often cost much more to fight the lawsuit than to pay the settlement, so the location owner will often pay the money to make the lawsuit go away.

California State Senator Bob Dutton reports that emergency legislation which would have stopped these predatory lawyers from filing frivolous lawsuits against small businesses was killed by Democrats during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on July 5, 2011.

While Dutton’s bill honored the ADA laws already in place, Dutton said, “Senate Bill 783 would have required the owner of a property to be notified of an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) violation before a lawsuit could be filed.” The property owner would have had 120 days to fix the violation. If the violation(s) was not fixed within the time frame, a lawsuit would then be allowed to move forward.”

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1866666,00.html
http://www.calwatchdog.com/2011/07/08/democrats-kill-abusive-lawsuit-bill/

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