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ADA Class Action Lawsuits: Are You Compliant?

If you own a business that caters to the public, you may be vulnerable to a class action lawsuit. Businesses with multiple locations such as banks, restaurants, supermarkets, and big box stores are particularly vulnerable, but single “mom and pop” operations are far from immune. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all places of public accommodation to meet very specific accessibility standards, and businesses that fail to meet those standards can be hit with a lawsuit for injunctive relief and attorney fees, and/or fined by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

All it takes to commence an ADA accessibility class action is a single named plaintiff who purports to represent all persons with similar disabilities, some real or perceived accessibility violations — be they major or minor — and a law firm willing to take the case. Since the ADA authorizes an award of attorney fees to the prevailing party, law firms have a financial incentive to handle such cases.

Typically, the named plaintiff visits one or more of the business’ locations and alleges that he or she has been deterred from patronizing the business due to specific accessibility barriers at these and other locations. The barriers may be alleged in one or all of the following categories: (1) accessible approach and entrance; (2) access to goods and services; (3) access to public toilet rooms; and (4) access to other items such as water fountains.

Unlike the typical case in which the plaintiff is entitled to “one bite of the apple,” a single lawsuit to recover all past, present and future harm, there is no limit to the number of ADA Title III lawsuits that can be brought by the same individual, or different individuals, based on different ADA accessibility violations. For instance, the same individual who sues a bank because its ATM’s are not accessible by persons in wheelchairs can file a second lawsuit, and the law firm can collect a second round of attorney fees, because the parking lots are not up to current ADA standards.

So how do businesses protect themselves? By making sure they comply with the ADA before the first potential plaintiff sets foot (or wheels) on their premises. An ADA accessibility audit not only helps you to comply with the law and avoid expensive and time-consuming lawsuits, but making your business accessible also helps to show that you care about all of your customers, not just the able-bodied ones. For all of those reasons, complying with the ADA’s accessibility standards is not just good law. It’s good business.

For a confidential analysis of your ADA accessibility options, or to arrange for a confidential consultation, please contact Jerry Hogenmiller at (412) 316-8689 or [email protected]; or W. James Rogers at (412) 316-8651 or [email protected]; or Lisa Whisler at (412) 316-8690 or [email protected].

Important NoticeThis information is intended for general guidance only, and should not be used as a substitute for specific legal advice.  For specific legal advice applicable to your situation, you should consult an attorney of your choice.  Although believed to be accurate when written, no guarantee of completeness or accuracy to your particular circumstances should be implied.  Laws, regulations, and court decisions in this area change frequently, and you should consult the attorney of your choice for up-to-date information.