ADA-related lawsuits can cost businesses up to $40

Chiu proposal could curb costly ADA disability access lawsuits in San Francisco

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, thousands of lawsuits have been filed, claiming violations such as high bathroom mirrors in restaurants and too-narrow aisles in bookstores. The legal action can be crippling to small businesses — and a windfall for the litigants.

“There has been an epidemic of lawsuits alleging ADA violations,” said Supervisor David Chiu, who will introduce legislation today that would help small businesses in The City avoid lawsuits by upgrading their facilities to comply with the act.

“There have been a handful of individuals who have made a living out of suing small businesses,” Chiu added. “It’s a cottage industry.”

Some businesses have closed rather than fight the lawsuits, which can cost up to $40,000.
 
Chiu’s ordinance would give priority for construction permits that would bring businesses into compliance with the law. Small self-service restaurants would be allowed to exclude space used for disabled access from the calculation of maximum allowable square footage.

If the law passes, beginning in October of next year commercial landlords would be required to bring ground-floor entrances into compliance with the pre-existing law before renting to new tenants or renewing existing leases. Landlords also would be required to tell tenants about potential obligations under the law.

Lawyer Thomas Frankovich, who since 1994 has filed many of the lawsuits that Chiu referred to, said he doubted the ordinance would have an effect.

“The people that he’s concerned about are the remainder of the scofflaws that have ignored this law for 20 years,” Frankovich said. “I have zero sympathy for 99 percent.”

Frankovich pointed to a 2003 report by the San Francisco Collaborative, a coalition of businesses and disability activists that found most business owners did not take advantage of its program to help them upgrade facilities to comply with the law.

“Small businesses appear to reject conceptually sound risk-management principle for the more reactive ‘wait until I am sued’ approach,” the report’s authors
concluded.

“The hammer of litigation is the only way to improve compliance,” Frankovich said.

Chiu said Frankovich — whose website is illustrated with a drawing of the attorney riding a tank — is using that hammer to his own benefit.

“Thomas Frankovich has been one of the worst examples of these drive-by lawsuits,” Chiu said.

Legal fees

Failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act
can be expensive for businesses.

$4,000: Damages a disabled person is allowed to collect per violation, according to California law
4,809: ADA cases filed against businesses in California since 2005
300: Approximate number of San Francisco businesses sued since 2005
$25,000 to $40,000: Average cost to businesses to settle a case

Source: Supervisor
David Chiu’s office

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsDavid ChiuLocalSan Francisco

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A lab worker from the Medical Examiner’s Office was arrested with an evidence bag of methamphetamine in August. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Audit over lab worker meth arrest finds medical examiner is missing drugs

An audit of the Medical Examiner’s Office prompted by the arrest of… Continue reading

The City is seeking to enhance health care for San Francisco International Airport workers, which include more than 100 who have tested positive for COVID-19. <ins>(Courtesy photo)</ins>
Airlines, business groups fight new health insurance requirements for SFO workers

Heathy Airport Ordinance would require companies to offer family coverage or increase contributions

The Hall of Justice building at 850 Bryant St. is notorious for sewage leaks and is known to be seismically unsafe. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFPD speeding up Hall of Justice exit after another ‘large leak’

San Francisco police can’t get out of the decrepit Hall of Justice… Continue reading

The main entrance to Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Voting rights of seniors, disabled must be protected

Coronavirus pandemic adds new challenges for accessing the polls

The Telegraph Quartet is pictured during its SF Music Day 2020 recording session at the striking, beautifully lit and almost empty Herbst Theatre. (Courtesy Marcus Phillips)
SF Music Day goes virtual with Herbst broadcast

Performers pre-record sets in empty, iconic theater

Most Read