U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) co-sponsored the ACCESS Act, a bill to give small businesses an opportunity to comply with ADA regulations, protecting them from predatory lawsuits.
“In the last year, the Central Valley has seen a sharp rise in the number of predatory, drive-by lawsuits accusing local small businesses of violating portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Denham.
Denham explained that many of these lawsuits are extortion attempts rather than actual efforts to ensure compliance with the regulations. This bill would give small businesses a notification of the violation, offering the opportunity to come into compliance before litigation can ensue.
“They often target minority and immigrant owned businesses ill-equipped to fight off lawsuits,” said Denham.
The ACCESS (ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services) Act would require any individual seeking legal action in response to a potential ADA violation to provide the business owner with written notification of the problem.
Within 60 days after receiving written notification, the owner would be required to respond with a plan to address the violation; after that period, the owner would have 120 days to remove the infraction.
In the previous Congress Denham supported the ACCESS Act and the ADA Notification Act of 2013; the bill allowed for at least 90 days from notification of possible violations to evaluate and correct the potential ADA violations before costly litigation can begin.
Denham’s office has partnered with Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) and the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC) to host educational workshops for small businesses throughout the Central Valley with the goal of giving business tools to proactively prevent, and when necessary, respond to related lawsuits.
In recent months, Denham has hosted workshops in conjunction with State Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Ripon Chamber of Commerce, the City of Escalon, the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance and the Manteca Chamber of Commerce regarding these issues.
The bipartisan issue is highly prevalent to California, one of the most litigious states, with many other local lawmakers speaking out on the issue.
Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) and Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced) introduced similar legislation on Dec. 1 with the purpose of reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits related to the ADA so businesses can stay open while working toward compliance with the relevant laws.
“Get-rich-quick lawsuit schemes that cause businesses to close, reduce hours, or lay off employees violate the spirit of ADA and should not be tolerated,” said Olsen.
Olsen described the proposed bill, AB 54, as a commonsense solution to protect businesses and employees while requiring adherence to access laws.
The bill would similarly provide businesses the opportunity to resolve ADA violations within 60 days, so long as the construction-related accessibility standards related to the specified violation have changed within three years.
“These well-intentioned measures are meant to give everyone equal access, but they’ve been abused by a select group who shakedown our local businesses for a quick buck,” said Gray. “People have lost their jobs, and businesses have shutdown, because the law has a loophole that is being exploited.”
Gray’s measure, AB 52, is geared toward significantly reducing or eliminating statutory damages if a small business corrects violations within 180 days.