There are certain truisms about living and working in California. One is that the sunsets are gorgeous and the surfing is pretty good. Another is that if you are a minority small business or property owner, you will most likely – at some point – be hit by a frivolous lawsuit.
The devastating effect of lawsuit abuse on California’s small business is well-documented. I’ve heard story after story from small business owners about shakedown lawsuits in which lawyers sue for any reason they can find and walk away with thousands of dollars in settlement money.
What’s often overlooked in these shakedown lawsuits is the disproportionate effect it has on minority small business owners. Predatory lawyers target these ethnic communities due to language, educational or cultural barriers they believe increase their prospects for an easy settlement without a fight.
My own parents, who immigrated to this county in search of the American Dream, were victims of a shakedown lawsuit alleging their business property was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In a story that’s all too common, the plaintiff wasn’t interested in seeing the property achieved compliance with the law, but in receiving a large, fast settlement – and then moving on to the next target.
In fact, in researching the plaintiff, I discovered a well-known litigant who had previously filed thousands of lawsuits, even on one occasion filing 92 lawsuits in a single day against family-run businesses for disability he didn’t even have!
For an immigrant who has started a small business in California, a single lawsuit can change the “American dream” into a nightmare. And because immigrant and minority communities are among the most in need of job opportunities and economic development, when businesses in these communities have to lay off employees or close altogether, it hurts our most vulnerable communities.
The answer to this dilemma is simple: we need to reform our legal system to stop shakedown lawsuits and protect small businesses and those lawmakers who represent these most at-risk communities have a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable.