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Monday, November 13, 2006

ADA Litigation: Too Much? Too Many? Giving Suits a Bad Name?

A California newspaper has reviewed ADA litigation in the state, with an emphasis on multiple suits by the same individuals or law firms, and cases which might prompt the public to look askance at the litigation. The article reports a six month investigation.

Titled, "STATE A MAGNET FOR SUITS BY DISABLED: Out-of-state lawyers have been lured to California by its laws," the article by Marje Lundstrom and Sam Stanton, of The Sacramento Bee, says that the ADA has made California "a magnet for lawyers and plaintiffs and for aggressive, sometimes questionable practices." Monterey County Herald (CA), November 13, 2006

Among the examples provided:

"A disabled teenager was offered $1,000 by a San Diego attorney for every business he could visit to "find" ADA violations the attorney had already identified.

Another disabled man who sued more than 50 businesses in Los Angeles later accused his lawyer of failing to ensure that the violations were fixed.

One Southern California man who issued a string of letters demanding payment for ADA violations turned out not to be a lawyer, but a self-described "nutritionist," better known to authorities for his Internet business arranging body-parts transplants overseas.

A woman is facing prosecution on insurance fraud charges after allegedly faking a disability and filing access claims against several California cities. When confronted by police, the supposedly wheelchair-dependent woman tried to run away."
A businessman is quoted calling the litigation "a big shakedown," and people with disabilities and advocates are quoted to support the need for the litigation. "If they obeyed the law, there wouldn't be any lawsuits," said Laura Williams, president of Californians for Disability Rights, the state's oldest and largest advocacy group for the disabled.

The article concludes: "As it turns out, both sides may be right."

COMMENT: It is inevitable that the recognition of new rights, especially for people with relative political powerlessness, and those vulnerable to others, would prompt new varieties (and quantities) of litigation. This occurred after the 1960s civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, and the 1970s litigation on "mental patient" rights. It is probably also inevitable that the public would notice excesses and abuses in such litigation, while advocates would rightly emphasize its necessity.

I have no doubt that soon things will come to a balance. Meanwhile, we should not take for granted the immense benefit which the ADA has brought to millions of people with disabilities, and to those of us who are not disabled. It is easy to forget the pre-ADA sad state of affairs.

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