Small businesses are the backbone of America. As a law firm for small businesses in San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento, it is our job to stay informed about issues that matter to area business owners. While it is absolutely important to maintain accessible workplaces, abusive lawsuits under the Americans With Disability Act (“ADA”) are far too common. Unmeritorious ADA claims against a small business in Northern California are vexing to companies and also devalue legitimate, valid claims under the act.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the State Senate has unanimously passed a bill aimed at reducing predatory ADA claims. SB1186 is being co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and State Senator Bob Dutton who represents San Bernardino County. The bill would do three things: 1) Ban “drive-by” plaintiffs from sending letters demanding a dollar amount from a small business to settle an alleged ADA claim; 2) For claimants alleging a construction-related accessibility violation, require written notice a minimum of thirty days prior to filing suit; and 3) Require commercial landlords to notify small-business tenants whether a building has received state-certification of ADA compliance.
Steinberg suggests that the current bill is only a starting point. He notes that the bill does not fully address the hundreds of false ADA claims filed against California businesses, suggesting that such claims that undermine the value of the federal legislation. ADA claims remain high. According to reports, six businesses on San Francisco’s Grant Avenue were hit by ADA lawsuits in last month.
Advocates for disabled individuals have expressed concern that the thirty-day notice provision singles out disability claims, creating legal hurdles for ADA plaintiffs that do not exist under other civil rights provisions. Supporters of SB1186 contend that the notice period enables businesses to fix technical violations, particularly those that do not actually impede access in practice, without facing a claim in court. An earlier version included a “right to cure” period allowing a small business owner a 120 day time frame to address an alleged accessibility violation before facing an ADA suit. Disability advocates strongly object to such a provision and Steinberg has suggested that a time dispensation creating a “duty to fix” may be a better alternative allowing small business owners an opportunity to address a possible violation.
While the bill passed the State Senate, it has not yet been taken up by the Assembly. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein is among those pushing for action with only ninety days remaining before the state legislative session ends for the year. Her office has condemned the “shakedown tactics” connected with abusive lawsuits under the ADA. She has suggested she will consider introducing federal legislation if the state government fails to act to curb ADA abuse.
ADA reform is vital to protect the interests of both small businesses and the disabled. Abusive lawsuits erode the strength of the legislation, run counter to its intent, and stand in the way of legitimate claims. False claims hurt the very group the ADA intends to protect, creating a stigma and making it hard for valid claims to be heard.
If you are a San Francisco small business owner facing an ADA claim, please contact our firm. As a San Francisco small business law firm, we can help you respond to the claim in a manner that is both effective and cost-conscious.
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