Is your business compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) of 1990 and/or California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act?
Have you been sued for an ADA violation? Our San Diego law firm has defended business sued for ADA violations. We can help.
Since 2001, we’ve personally defended more than 100 businesses that were sued for ADA and Unruh violations in San Diego and across California. We have worked against just about every plaintiff disability lawsuit lawyer in San Diego County.
It’s been our experience that plaintiff disability lawyers target smaller businesses instead of larger businesses. The reasons are simple. First, small business owners are less likely to be in compliance with disability laws, whereas larger companies tend to comply because they typically spend the money during construction to build in accordance with federal and state building guidelines. Second, smaller businesses typically have less money in their war chest to fight, resulting in quick settlements. Larger companies, on the other hand, have the budgets to hire big expensive law firms to defend their cases.
Why you should hire us to defend your business against a disability lawsuit?
In every disability case we’ve handled since 2001, we’ve been able to either get the case dismissed on legal grounds or negotiate a settlement that our clients were willing to pay.
We Are Experts in ADA
Steven Elia alone has probably defended more disability lawsuits than most other lawyers in California. In fact, he’s handled so many that on March of 2012, he received a subpoena from the State Bar of California ordering him to testify as a witness against a notorious plaintiff’s disability attorney that the State Bar sought disciplinary action against, including disbarment. He produced crucial evidence to the State Bar that would have been used at trial. A few weeks before trial, however, the State Bar notified him that the attorney surrendered his license to practice law and is now no longer able to file disability lawsuits.
Steven Elia alone has probably defended more disability lawsuits than most other lawyers in California.
We work with a number of disability experts in the San Diego area who can assist you in fixing most access barriers and bring your business into compliance. In some cases, it’s as easy as putting up a handicap sign that says “Please ask for assistance” or “Please ring bell for assistance”.
We can either demand that the lawsuit be dismissed if there are no legal grounds or if there is a legitimate violation, we can negotiate a settlement that is acceptable to you. For example, in a recent case, the plaintiff dismissed his lawsuit because our client did not control the city-owned sidewalk outside of his business. Alternatively, if you elect to settle, an iron clad general release is required as well as the preparation of dismissal paperwork for filing with the court.
Our Clients Come First
Our approach may save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees and costs. Unlike many attorneys in San Diego who don’t know how to handle these types of cases, our focus is to get you out of this lawsuit as inexpensively as possible. Since 2001, we’ve seen other attorneys put their clients through long protracted litigation, forcing those clients to rack up unnecessary legal fees and costs on cases that cannot be won on legal grounds. In every disability case we’ve handled since 2001, we’ve been able to either get the case dismissed on legal grounds or negotiate a settlement that our clients were willing to pay.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is this ADA lawsuit frivolous?
A: Sometimes they are but most cases have some legal merit. Just about everyone who walks into our office will profess their compliance with these handicap laws. However, after investigation into the claims, many of our clients are legally in violation of ADA and Unruh laws and are not aware of it. These violations can be minor, but are still actionable. In fact, an overwhelming majority of businesses have some level of violation.
Q: Don’t they have to send me a warning letter first, giving me a grace period to fix the violation?
A: No. Although Senate Bill 783 has been introduced by State Senator Bob Dutton, the Bill did not pass and is not California law. In Congress, Rep. Duncan Hunter introduced a similar 90-day grace period bill which is currently pending. For years, both the California Legislature as well as Congress have stricken down numerous similar grace period legislation. Currently, neither California nor Federal Law require a plaintiff to send you a warning letter, giving you a grace period before filing a lawsuit against you.
Q: Isn’t my business grandfathered in?
No. There is no grandfather clause in the law. The legal standard – albeit vague – is if altering the violation is “readily achievable.” For example, my law school’s building was very old and had four floors, but the elevator only went up the first 3 floors, but not the 4th floor. In this case, it would probably not be readily achievable to make an alteration which would cause the elevator to go to the 4th floor because that would require a costly teardown of the entire building. On the other hand, if a wheelchair is unable to go into a business somewhere in the City of Julian because of a cement access barrier, the store owner could simply put up a sign with a bell that says “Please ask or ring for assistance”. This alteration would probably be considered a readily achievable fix.
Q: Will my insurance cover this lawsuit?
A: Probably not. In the past, it was common practice for insurance companies to defend and indemnify their insured against injury and ADA claims. Today, however, many insurance carriers have written this type of coverage out of their policies. You are encouraged to tender your lawsuit to your insurance carrier; however, it is likely you will receive a Reservation of Rights letter stating they will not defend or indemnify you in your case.
Q: What is the fine per violation?
A: In California, a plaintiff may seek triple the amount in actual damages, a minimum of which is $4,000.00 per visit, plus attorneys fees and costs. So if your business is really in violation, you may consider settling the case instead of fighting a battle you may ultimately lose. Keep in mind that if you lose the case, the plaintiff may be awarded attorneys fees.
Q: Who’s responsible, the landlord or the tenant?
A: In general, the Landlord and Tenant are jointly and severally liable to the plaintiff and are often both sued in the same lawsuit. As between the Landlord and Tenant, they may transfer liability contractually in their lease agreement. Typically, the language in the lease will address who maintains the parking lot and other areas of the premises. This person will likely be ultimately responsible. Your lease should be carefully reviewed by an attorney who is handling your disability case.
Q: If I settle, how much do I have to pay the plaintiff?
A: It depends on the plaintiff’s attorney, the plaintiff, the number of violations, and other circumstances. In my experience, settlements can range between $3,000 to $10,000, and sometimes even more.
In many instances, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have professional disability experts or their clients drive by certain businesses looking for violations. Many times, they don’t actually go into the business. If you have the proper signage in the front, then they will likely skip your business and move onto the next business without the signs.
Below are the most common violations we see pled in disability lawsuits:
- No parking area
- Lack of any van accessible signage
- Lack of requisite signage including fees
- Lack of requisite striping
- Path of travel is not accessible
- Barriers in entrance (sometimes a floor mat or heavy door pressure)
- Countertop height is too high
- Inadequate space between aisle ways
Here is a link to California and Federal disability laws and regulations for more information.
Let’s defend your business
Elia Law Firm, APC is one of the most experienced San Diego ADA defense firm. Let us defend you and your business.
We have represented clients and businesses in just about every city in San Diego county, including the cities of San Diego, El Cajon, La Mesa, Santee, Poway, Chula Vista, Escondido, San Marcos, Del Mar, Encinitas (Cardiff by the sea), La Jolla, Carmel Valley, Carlsbad, Coronado, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, National City, Oceanside, Solana Beach and Vista.
Call and speak directly to one of the ADA attorneys here about your disability lawsuit today by calling us in San Diego at 619-444-2244 for a free phone consultation.