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Steve
16th March 07, 11:26 PM
A matter of access or money?
Two dozen ADA suits in 7 months spur questions

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Ken Wood
Sun News

A Florida-based disability rights group known for what critics describe as "drive-by litigation" is now taking dead aim at shopping centers, restaurants and hotels in Northeast Ohio.

Since August, Disabled Patriots of America Inc. and one of its members, "tester" Bonnie Kramer of Cleveland Heights, have sued at least 29 Cleveland-area businesses and the city of Shaker Heights in U.S. District Court, alleging they have restrooms, parking spaces, counters, water fountains, ramps and other facilities that violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The 1990 law is a complex set of regulations for businesses providing access to the public.

In court documents, lawyers for the group claim the suits are needed to force businesses to comply with the law and stop them from discriminating against disabled customers. But critics argue the real purpose of the suits is to line the pockets of the Florida lawyers who file the complaints and settle out of court for legal fees.

"The suits themselves may be legitimate, but the way they are being brought is kind of sleazy," said Janna Starr, director of disability rights at the nonprofit Disability Policy Collaboration in Washington, D.C. "They really only benefit the lawyers there's no recovery (of damages) for plaintiffs under these types of (lawsuits)."

Cleveland lawyer Brian J. Kelly, who represents three businesses being sued over ADA access, said he is hesitant to question the motive of the lawsuits because the law was passed with good intentions and helps people. He said anyone with a legitimate access complaint would probably tell the business owner first.

"(But) the people who bring these cases, who wait in the weeds and then come out with a lawsuit and try to run up attorneys' fees, it certainly does raise an eyebrow," Kelly said.

David W. Peters, CEO and general counsel for San Diego-based Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuse, a firm that helps businesses prevent and resolve ADA access claims, said most of the suits have a common denominator: "These cases are driven by attorneys' fees."

Federal court records obtained by Sun News show the Disabled Patriots group has filed more than 200 ADA lawsuits in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and Georgia. Few suits make it to trial, records show, since lawyers contend it is cheaper to settle the cases than defend them in court.

Shopping centers accused of violating ADA rules include Crocker Park in Westlake, Great Northern Mall in North Olmsted, Parmatown, LaPlace in Beachwood, Shaker Square in Cleveland and Severance Town Center in Cleveland Heights. Other defendants include hotels in Independence, Mayfield Heights and Westlake and a pair of Denny's restaurants.

Shaker Heights is being sued for allegedly non-compliant facilities at municipal properties ranging from City Hall to parks. Lisa L. Gold-Scott, the city's assistant director of law, said Shaker Heights does not coment on ongoing litigation.

Three Florida lawyers Todd W. Shulby of Davie, Guy M. Shir of Boca Raton and Lawrence Fuller of North Miami are representing Disabled Patriots in the local ADA suits.

Neither Kramer nor the DPA responded to messages left with lawyers representing them in the ADA lawsuits. Shulby wrote in an e-mail message that he would discuss the newspaper's request for comments with his clients but did not respond further; Sun had asked what was the plaintiffs' goal in filing the suits and whether Kramer was being paid.

Shir, in an e-mail, wrote: "We do not comment on our cases." Fuller, through an office employee, said he would not comment on pending cases. The employee also declined to give contact information for Disabled Patriots and Kramer, saying, "We don't give out clients' phone numbers."

Mystery plaintiffs.

It is difficult to find out much about the nonprofit group filing the suits.

Internal Revenue Service documents list Lake Worth, Fla.-based Disabled Patriots as a public charity to which contributions are deductible, as provided by law. But nonprofit charity watchdog GuideStar reports that DPA is not required to file an annual return with the IRS because it has an annual income of less than $25,000.

Sun News was unable to determine whether DPA offers services or activities other than filing lawsuits against businesses over ADA rules. The newspaper could not find a Web site or a listed telephone number for the organization.

Florida records show the Disabled Patriots' Lake Worth address is the same as the one for Maria Gallagher, the group's registered agent and the person whose signature is on at least some of the consent decrees settling lawsuits in Ohio. A call to Gallagher at that location was answered by a recording indicating the phone number had been disconnected.

According to court documents, Kramer is the co-plaintiff and "tester" in most of Disabled Patriots' lawsuits in Northeast Ohio. The suits indicate she visited all the businesses and found the alleged ADA violations.

In Ragged Edge Online, a Web site for advocates of access for the disabled, Kramer referring to a situation unrelated to her lawsuits wrote that she has been in a wheelchair for about five years and considers herself an activist.

"I am committed to fighting the good fight, too," she wrote. "Getting the ADA enforced seems sometimes like an impossible task. Everybody needs to do their part."

So what do the plaintiffs want?

The lawsuits, which contain similar wording, don't seek monetary damages but ask for a court-ordered closing of the businesses until the companies bring their facilities in line with ADA requirements. The suits also state that the plaintiffs should be awarded "reasonable attorneys' fees, expert fees, costs and expenses."

The suit filed in December by Kramer and Disabled Patriots against the Golden Gate Shopping Center in Mayfield Heights is typical of the local litigation.

It contains 18 alleged ADA violations noted by Kramer, including her complaint that the urinals in the men's restroom are substandard. Other alleged violations include: signs designating accessible parking spaces for the disabled that are not mounted high enough; counters that exceed the 36-inch limit; exterior grade changes of more than one-half inch; doorways that are too narrow; a lack of accessible routes from the street, sidewalk and parking areas; not enough clear floor space in restrooms; and inadequate bathroom-dispenser controls.

Forrest A. Norman, the lawyer representing the shopping center, said the company does not comment on pending litigation. He added, "(Golden Gate) is very aware of the ADA and makes every effort to make its facilities available to all customers."

Peters' firm found cases in which companies were sued even though they fully complied with the law but settled because it was cheaper than going to court.

One business was accused of having a paper towel dispenser 1 inch higher than ADA guidelines, while in another case a man complained that there were no handicapped facilities in the women's restroom.

Peters' Web site describes the problem this way: "(A) vast number of lawsuits are being filed, not because the plaintiffs themselves experience obstacles which genuinely prevented their equal access to facilities, but instead because a relatively small number of opportunists are combing the country looking for any infraction they can magnify into a claim from which they can personally profit."

Legal bills soar.

Fighting an ADA lawsuit in court is a costly venture for businesses.

For example, lawyers for Cedar Point Amusement Park, one of the businesses being sued by the Disabled Patriots and a "tester" from Findlay, filed court documents estimating it would cost $63,000 just to defend the suit. The estimate requested by a federal judge covered only legal fees and costs, not any remedial construction that might be ordered as a result of the complaint.

Lawyers for the Sandusky Mall estimated it would cost them more than $66,000 to defend an ADA suit brought by the group. The case was settled out of court.

Disabled Patriots lawyer Fuller and another attorney were paid a total of $22,000 as part of a settlement in an ADA case against Holiday Inn Sandusky-Cedar Point, according to federal court records. The same lawyers were awarded $20,000 in fees as part of a consent decree with another Sandusky hotel, the Quality Inn at The Greentree.

In both cases, the property owners also agreed to make changes to the hotels so they are more accessible for disabled people.

In a since-settled Michigan case, Fuller wanted to recoup his firm's legal fees at a rate of $325 per hour and its expert witness fees at $175 per hour. The court lowered the rates, saying they were out of line for the region.

Several lawyers representing defendants in the local ADA access suits either did not return phone calls or said they could not discuss the issue while the cases were pending.

The Disability Policy Collaboration's Starr said while so-called "drive-by litigation" hurts the efforts of legitimate groups fighting for access, the targeted businesses are usually out of compliance and should not be.

"This is not a new law," she said.

Starr said there is plenty of help available for businesses. Ohio, she said, has one of the top ADA technical assessment centers in the country.

Peters said access for the disabled is an admirable goal. But the notion that justice is being served by filing these types of lawsuits is nonsense, he said.

"This 'magic' of private enforcement isn't working," Peters said.

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Link. (http://www.cleveland.com/suncourier/news/index.ssf?/base/community-0/1172700536230850.xml&coll=4&thispage=1)

How about just letting a business know that "your aisles are too narrow" instead of suing them?

As a manager of a small business I know that I would appreciate that (and do something about it).

But wait, there are no plaintiffs...

WarPhalange
17th March 07, 02:06 AM
Pretend I posted that pic of the guy who is pushing down Charles Xavier down the stairs while giving a hearty LOL. I can't find the pic. :(

Cormoran
17th March 07, 06:09 AM
what happened to 'differently abled'? did we actually *gasp* take a step backwards in the politically correct world?

polishillusion
17th March 07, 07:17 AM
no, we didnt. lawyers did. the blood sucking bastards

*Browning and that guy from Brazil excluded so i do not get sued for slander*

Cormoran
17th March 07, 07:49 AM
Pretend I posted that pic of the guy who is pushing down Charles Xavier down the stairs while giving a hearty LOL. I can't find the pic. :(

oh damn i know the pic you're talking about! i couldn't find it either, but i reckon this one is just as apt.

http://users.tpg.com.au/adslpyfv/cripple1.JPG

Seraphim
17th March 07, 02:54 PM
Fuck lawyers.

bob
17th March 07, 04:26 PM
Pretend I posted that pic of the guy who is pushing down Charles Xavier down the stairs while giving a hearty LOL. I can't find the pic. :(

http://www.wernersplace.com/images/wheelchair.jpg

Will that do?

Kiko
18th March 07, 08:19 AM
The open mouthed reptile is the lawyer, right?

bob
18th March 07, 10:04 PM
The open mouthed reptile is the lawyer, right?

I'll have you know that my father in law is a lawyer and three of my sisters-in-law are lawyers.



So I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the animal they most resemble is a hyena.






http://www.msu.edu/~smith780/kill%20again.jpg

Judah Maccabee
18th March 07, 11:09 PM
You're welcome:

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v163/samadriel/owned-xavier.jpg

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v163/samadriel/owned-xavier.jpg

AAAhmed46
18th March 07, 11:21 PM
Now that is funny.

Sinister for the win!

Kein Haar
21st March 07, 06:39 AM
I would like to see lawyers gang-up on the disabled, as in a gang-bang.

Or did I miss the point AND not read the article?

billy sol hurok
21st March 07, 07:36 AM
http://www.filmsite.org/filmfotos/kissofdeath.jpg

Kiss of Death (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039536/), Richard Widmark's screen debut no less. Long, steep staircase + insane cackle = instant fame.

TM
21st March 07, 03:47 PM
Henry VIII was a pretty bright guy wasn't he?

ironlurker
30th March 07, 09:44 PM
http://i93.photobucket.com/albums/l43/whackula/PL-90126A-md.jpg

Pretty much sums it up.
Nice how these suits don't even need plaintiffs anymore.
We had a case around here where a golf club had to make a million dollar renovation and the "plaintiff" had never been a member, and, I believe, had never entered the property.

ADA, Title IX and just wait n' see if the ERA is ever ratified.

This other one was a classic too . . .

Blind Cal student sues Target

Suit charges retailer's Web site cannot be used by the sightless


OAKLAND -- A blind UC Berkeley student has filed a class-action lawsuit against Target Corp., saying the retailer is committing civil-rights violations because its Web site is inaccessible to those who cannot see.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, said the upscale discounter's on-line business, target.com, denies blind Californians equal access to goods and services available to those who can see.
"Target thus excludes the blind from full and equal participation in the growing Internet economy that is increasingly a fundamental part of daily life," said the suit, which seeks to be certified as a class action and alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and various state statutes . . .

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/02/08/MNGO7H4VBP128.DTL

WarPhalange
30th March 07, 10:00 PM
Is it too late for deaf people to sue telephone and radios companies?

Shawarma
31st March 07, 03:22 AM
Can someone tell me if American law is very much different from the law in the rest of the world since all the very bizarre lawsuits in the world seem to come from there, or if it's just the American people that enjoy sueing people for fun and profit?

Judah Maccabee
31st March 07, 09:31 AM
I think America alone has more lawyers than all the other countries combined.

America isn't alone in crazy lawsuits, but I think it's probably the top offender, since I think there's more of an entitlement culture.

ICY
31st March 07, 08:42 PM
It surprises me that so many lawsuits happen when a hitman is only a few grand away...cheaper than a lawyer.

WarPhalange
31st March 07, 09:31 PM
B-b-b-ut CSI!!

ICY
1st April 07, 03:49 AM
Bodies decay quickly in the right setting.

WarPhalange
1st April 07, 08:55 PM
You mean lava?

Kiko
5th April 07, 05:11 PM
http://i.cnn.net/cnn/2004/WORLD/europe/02/20/offbeat.london.piranha.reut/long.teeth.jpg

WarPhalange
5th April 07, 06:25 PM
Ahh the lava fish.

Kiko
5th April 07, 06:31 PM
No, these are lavafish.. poor things!
http://hawkeyeaquarium.com/cornerimages/Lavariumcorner/LAVRIUM-corner-img.jpg
THEY need a good lawyer.. anyone?

WarPhalange
5th April 07, 09:37 PM
I wonder how they get the lava into those lamps.