Slowly, but surely, the California Legislature is making progress tackling the issue of shakedown lawsuits alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We saw the first bit of success in 2008 with SB 1608 and more in 2012 with SB 1186. These bills represented the growing acknowledgement among our state’s elected leaders that these trial lawyer shakedown artists are profiting from the abuse of our legal system, and our state’s small businesses are paying the price. However, because the reforms did not go far enough, the lawsuits have kept coming.

This year, legislators introduced a wide array of bills looking to stop abusive ADA lawsuits, which Senator Tom Berryhill wrote about on this blog. Most of these bills contained a corrective action period for businesses, which allows business who are sued an opportunity to fix the violation named in the lawsuit before it can move forward – and before they are forced to pay enormous legal fees and settlements. If the violation is not fixed in a reasonable time frame, then the lawsuit can move forward as before. Opposition to this common sense solution resulted in the deaths of almost all the ADAlawsuit reform bills during this legislation session.

However, one bill remains. SB 251 by State Senator Richard Roth (D). While this bill does not go as far as CALA would like, it would represent additional progress in the fight to stop shakedown ADA lawsuits and create a civil justice system that serves the interests of ordinary people instead of lawyers. Here are the highlights of what it would do:

  1. Allow any business that has hired a certified access specialists (CASp) and has been inspected for ADA access compliance 90 days from the date of the CASp inspection to correct any ADA violation specified, without facing penalties. Claims for actual damages are excluded from the 90 day moratorium.
  1. Allows any small business 15 days from date of written notice or lawsuit to correct certain ADA violations, without facing penalties. These violations are limited to outside and interior signage issues, parking lot paint and truncated domes. Claims for actual damages are excluded from the 15 day moratorium.
  1. Requires city and county building departments to provide education materials to businesses regarding ADA requirements and expedite the permit process for any business attempting to correct ADA violations.

There are some other items related to increasing the number of CASps in the state (currently we have about 600) and posting a list of CASps in the state. One other thing SB 251 does is provide tax credits for businesses that make accessibility improvements, in addition to existing federal tax credits.

CALA strongly supports these measures to reduce the number of shakedown ADA lawsuits. It is critical that businesses be helped in any way possible to comply and avoid being sued.