In 1990, Congress passed the American Disabilities Act (ADA), providing civil rights protections to people with disabilities. It was inspired by an outcry by those who didn’t want to be excluded, segregated, institutionalized or discriminated against anymore.
Attention: Nightmare ahead
But lately, ADA-based lawsuits have taken a turn: there’s a new trend in litigation. Accessibility is the name of the game, and small businesses are the target.
“Small-business owners face a growing number of disabled-access lawsuits in the wake of a recent appeals-court ruling giving rise to disabled ‘testers,’ as well as the release of detailed federal specifications for curb ramps, self-opening doors and other standards” (source).
Did you catch that part about disabled testers? This is someone who isn’t necessarily a patron of your business, but who’s evaluating (and perhaps litigating against) your facilities as if they were.
The ruling (2013) that allowed testers to do this makes it possible for one plaintiff to bring lawsuits against multiple businesses, if those businesses aren’t in compliance with federal specifications for disabled access.
Case in point
“Linda Carpenter, who owns a used-furniture store in Escondido, Calif., was sued in December by a paraplegic customer, who complained that the building’s disabled parking spot wasn’t clearly marked. ‘I hadn’t gotten around to repainting the lines,’ says Ms. Carpenter, whose case is pending in court” (source).
The stakes can be high. ADA lawsuits can cost a business anywhere from a few thousand, to a few hundred thousand, dollars. And because it’s easy for small business owners to remain uninformed about federal access requirements until it’s too late, there are a lot of sitting ducks out there.
Hence the upswing in litigation. From January to June of 2014, there were 1,939 ADA lawsuits on the books: that’s a 55% increase from the same period the year before.
Don’t risk non-compliance. Make any needed changes now, before you’re saddled with legal fees.
Where to get more info
- ADA.gov, offering the latest official info on the ADA
- The current (2010) ADA standards for accessible design
- An ADA “small business primer,” written in plain English
- An ADA compliance checklist for existing facilities
To sum it up, ADA litigation is a very scary risk. Talk to our business risk management experts to learn more about how to protect your business.