California legislature passes bill restricting ADA lawsuits

Both houses of the California legislature passed a bill September 1 imposing new restrictions on lawsuits against businesses who have failed to comply with federal and state disability accessibility regulations.

The bill would reduce the amount of damages that business are liable for accessibility violations, from $4,000 per violation to significantly less in the event that the business fixes the violation within 60 days, among other mitigating factors.

The bill also bans so-called “demand letters,” a tactic used by lawyers to inform business of accessibility violations and reach a settlement instead of going to court. Lawyers are also barred from alleging multiple instances of the same violation, among other new reporting requirements.

The bipartisan measures, which passed the Senate by a 34-3 vote, are part of a crack down on alleged abuses of the system by civil rights lawyers looking to enforce Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Building Standards Code regulations ensuring people with disabilities can participate in everyday life.

California is home to an estimated 40 percent of the nation’s ADA lawsuits.

“It’s just plain wrong that some attorneys abuse the law by filing paper against businesses all over the state, making multiple claims for the same violation to pressure a quick settlement, and demanding money with the threat of a lawsuit over minor violations of disabled access laws,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who cosponsored the bill with Republican Sen. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, in a statement. “SB 1186 is a compromise that applies a common sense approach to resolve difficult issues. In the end, this will give some relief to entrepreneurs who show good faith in trying to follow the law and are willing to correct the violation.

The bill takes multiple steps to improve educational outreach regarding accessibility requirements, including a provision requiring commercial property owner to state in leases and rental agrements if the property has been inspected by a certified access specialist.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinsten, one of the nation’s most high-profile Democrats, heavily pushed the legislation, calling on state Senate to clamp down on the lawsuit in March and threatening to bring federal action if it failed to act.

In May, Disability Rights California slammed the measure, stating that it made it unfairly difficult for people with disabilities to protect their civil rights.

“California access laws and policies have been in effect for decades and full compliance by businesses still falls significantly short of what is required,” Disability Rights California stated. “Since information regarding the requirements of the law is widespread and available, there is no excuse that compliance is so often dependent on individual complaints and lawsuits.”

Disability Rights California is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.