Disability-access claims against businesses on the rise

In November 2013, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that a person who isn't a patron of a business can sue that business for failure to provide access to people with disabilities. The court's ruling cleared the way for serial "testers" to bring disability-access claims against multiple businesses.

In most states, plaintiffs in these kinds of lawsuits can't win damages, though the plaintiffs can receive reimbursement for legal fees. California is different, however. Here disability-access testers can pursue a minimum of $4,000 in damages, in addition to reimbursement for attorneys' fees. A business sued for not complying with federal disability-access standards may have to pay its own legal fees, as well as the plaintiff's.

This state of affairs has led to a rise in disability-access lawsuits. In 2012 the Department of Justice updated federal disability law with new requirements, including specifications for the height of towel dispensers, the slope of wheelchair ramps and the installation of pool lifts for hotel guests with disabilities. The pool lift requirement was implemented in 2013.

Many business owners are unaware of the changes, and in many cases, the first time an owner hears about a compliance issue is when a lawsuit has already been filed. Settling such claims can be costly, as can making the necessary renovations.

Any business owner facing this kind of legal challenge should have the counsel of an experienced business law attorney.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that offers some examples of the kinds of disability-access claims that are being filed in California and other parts of the country.

We also discussed protecting against these kinds of lawsuits in one of our recent posts.

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