Executive Director for Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) Victor Gomez released the following statement in regard to recent filings in alleged Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) fraud schemes:
“At CALA, we have been concerned about abusive ADA lawsuits targeting small businesses for decades. Sadly, the way the law is written, there is a tremendous potential for lawsuit abuse in ADA cases. But California’s leading legislators have repeatedly opposed reforms to how ADA regulations are enforced, contending that existing safeguards are sufficient.
“The status quo helps lawyers get paid more than it protects people with disabilities. Even though hundreds of these false and/or inappropriate claims have been documented, many lawmakers in Sacramento still think that private lawsuits through individuals are the best way to enforce ADA laws. The process to reach justice is so cumbersome that it can take years to document and prove false claims. And worse, during that time, the claimants and their attorneys can make millions off the hapless and targeted small businesses they sue.
“The focus should be bringing businesses into compliance and providing ADA access. It can be complicated and costly for small businesses to even figure out all the regulations that apply to their business. I owned pizza restaurants for many years, and I can attest that it is hard to keep up with changing regulations without clear guidance. Big businesses can afford to hire specialists to come in and make sure they are complying with ADA regulations. Small businesses can’t. Similarly, big businesses aren’t targeted with these lawsuits, because private attorneys and individuals know that they can afford large legal teams. Small businesses can’t afford legal teams, and usually can’t even afford one lawsuit, so they settle to save money. Knowing this, California attorneys have filed tens of thousands of ADA lawsuits in the last 30 years, and they are just getting started.
“But, in the past few weeks, there has been an interesting development. Megafiling attorney Ross Cornell and his client were arrested in or around Riverside County for allegedly making false claims to obtain settlements of ADA claims. In another case, a San Francisco grand jury indicted Beverly Hills attorney Kousha Berokim for making allegedly false claims to obtain settlements from small businesses contending that his blind client could not access their websites. The District Attorneys of both Los Angeles and San Francisco filed a civil complaint against Potter Handy, LLP (dba “Center for Disability Access”) for filing ADA lawsuits with allegedly false claims.
“But for every successful prosecution or disbarment, defendants claim that no action is taken in hundreds of other cases which warrant it. Each of the above people have filed hundreds of ADA lawsuits— has there ever been any meaningful restitution for any defendants harmed from improper claims? The overwhelming majority never see a cent.
“While small businesses struggle to stay open with COVID, staffing and product shortages, and minimum wage hikes, Californians should demand their legislators find a better way. Other states and countries do not have this problem, and do not enforce laws through private lawsuits. Many ADA lawsuits continue to be settled without paying court filing fees, or any enforceable commitment to make appropriate changes. CALA demands action to promote balance and justice for people with disabilities and small businesses.
“AB 2164, if enacted, would help ease this burden. The bill eliminates the January 1, 2024 sunset clause on an already existing $4.00 Disability Access and Education Revolving Fund (DAERF) fee that governments collect. This ensures that local governments can collect this fee indefinitely so that small businesses have access to funds to make accessibility-related improvements so that Californians with disabilities have barrier-free access to businesses and other facilities. The bill has support from both business owners and disability groups, indicating that this bill should be passed. Additionally, AB 2164 would also clarify the ability for local jurisdictions to use these funds for grants to small businesses to fund accessibility-related certification, design, construction, and permitting fees.
“Politicians must act now to fix a broken ADA enforcement mechanism, and work tirelessly to maintain a system that is fair to both the disabled and those who seek to serve them. Taxpayers have a right to make sure that limited government resources are used in the most efficient, least harmful way—call your legislator today to find out what they are doing to stop the abuse and ask them to support AB 2164.”