The Daily Recorder reported in late March that U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has entered the fray on the predatory ADA lawsuits that have been ravaging the State of California. In a March 8 letter to fellow Democrat and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, she accused plaintiffs’ lawyers of coercing business owners into paying five-figure settlements by threatening them with potentially costlier lawsuits for minor ADA violations under California’s access and civil rights laws.

In her letter she states, “I proudly support the ADA, and the ability it has given to people with special needs to have access to facilities and services they require to lead healthy, productive lives. However, in today’s difficult economic environment, I am troubled by reports that these lawsuits may unfairly and unnecessarily threaten the viability of some small businesses in our state. It appears these suits and demand letters are driven by a unique California law that, unlike the federal ADA, permits the recovery of damages for noncompliance with the ADA. As a result, I respectfully ask that you use your leadership position in the California State Senate to help advance legislation that will address this problem.”

She goes on to refer to a bill that State Senator Bob Dutton has introduced (and CALA supports) on this matter, SB 1186, which would help stop abusive ADA lawsuits. Notably, Feinstein said she is considering introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate if this problem is not solved by our state Legislature.

This is huge news on the ADA predatory lawsuit front. The fact that our senior U.S. Senator realizes there is a problem and has used her bully pulpit to try and achieve change is a major step. In the past, responses to similar challenges have claimed that legislation passed and signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, SB 1608, should be given a chance to work.

However, the primary goal of SB 1608 was to create a master check list on ADA and study the litigation problem and report back to the legislature between July 1, 2013 and July 1, 2014. It is meant only to study the litigation problem, not stop the abusive lawsuits.

According to Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuse, approximately 25,000 to 35,000 ADA lawsuits have been filed in California over the past few years. If something is not done, these lawsuits will continue to ravage businesses in California, yet many Californians do not fully understand the magnitude of this problem. There are 3.5 million businesses in California, and it is estimated that 98% of these businesses are not compliant. Under the current law, all of these noncompliant businesses are open to ADA lawsuits, which is a serious problem for California’s economy. The focus should be on giving businesses the education and resources they need to be compliant, not demanding money for individual plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ attorneys.

This problem extends far beyond businesses, though. Many state, county and city buildings are not compliant, as well as many schools. Lawsuits against these entities drain tax dollars from public safety and services. This is everyone’s problem, not just businesses. The legislature should realize that for every business that folds due to these lawsuits, local and state governments lose tax revenue, Californians lose jobs and communities are changed forever.

We need to create jobs, not lawsuits! Stop the predatory ADA lawsuits now!