The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been a considerable benefit to many people who would otherwise be denied access to many places due to mobility issues and other disabilities. Unfortunately, the ADA has also created a lucrative cottage industry of lawsuits that target small businesses -- with plaintiffs pressing claims against businesses that they rarely (if ever) patronize.
Recent lawsuits against three Florida restaurants may be symptomatic of that problem.
A Florida man whose weight puts him the diagnostic category of "morbidly obese" has filed lawsuits demanding $100,000 for both actual and punitive damages due to the failure of the restaurants to comply with ADA standards. He named all three restaurants in one suit because he claims that their violations are essentially the same.
According to the man's complaint, his weight makes it difficult to walk, bend or stand and increases the possibility that he could suffer a fall. At one of the restaurants named, he claims that he was unable to easily access either the indoor or outdoor dining areas and that the indoor tables didn't have the legally-required 27 inches of knee space.
He has alleged in another lawsuit that a restaurant"s lack of disabled parking amounted to "malicious violations of the guidelines" of the ADA. In addition, he claims that the checkout counter was too high and that there were no fixed or movable tables accessible to someone of his girth.
The third restaurant is being faulted for an incorrect counter height and doors to the restroom that aren't up to the ADA's standard.
While the man characterizes his lawsuits as "essential to ensure true accessibility," the plaintiff has a history of filing such claims. He has filed numerous lawsuits in Arizona, California and Oregon before.
Critics of these kinds of claims say that they are essentially "drive-by" lawsuits that are designed to make a quick buck off the backs of small business owners. Lawsuits like these often demand payment to settle without bothering to ask the owner to make repairs or adjustments -- indicating that money is the real goal -- not accessibility. They target both a company's physical location and their website for ADA violations in the hope of an easy settlement and quick cash.
If you're a business owner facing this type of lawsuit, take steps to protect your business by consulting with a business litigation attorney about your options.