60 Minutes recently aired a story on what it referred to as “drive-by lawsuits” filed against businesses for failing to comply with the design and construction requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The piece showcased stories of people who essentially “drive” around on the hunt to find ADA violations, including ramps that are look like they’re steeper than what’s permitted by the ADA, parking spaces that are not designated by required signs, missing pool lifts, etc. Before you know it, the attorney files a case against a business for design and construction violations of the ADA. What results? The establishment that is sued typically settles out of court and has to fork over thousands in court fees, which are theoretically divvyed up by the attorney and the plaintiff all in an effort to make money. Can this be possible? Yes, it can – and these “drive by” lawsuits happen all the time. So, in this instance, the 60 Minutes story was on point – people take advantage of “the system” for personal gain all of the time and in many different ways.
Here’s the missed opportunity – the 60 Minutes piece did nothing to highlight the incredible opportunities that have been opened up to people with disabilities as a result of the passing of the ADA. The story failed to mention that there are an estimated 53 million Americans with disabilities who, as a result of the ADA, now have the ability to work, shop, live, and play on the same terms as everyone else. The ADA leveled out the playing field and provides equal access to the built environment – equality; isn’t that what we’re all about?
The ADA was enacted over 25 years ago. So is it realistic for a hotel developer, for example, to claim that he/she didn’t know that the law requires newly constructed hotels to be fully compliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the ADA? And, if the developer is sued because a guest with a disability couldn’t enjoy the hotel experience because she couldn’t negotiate her wheelchair through narrow doorways; or, couldn’t use the pool because there was no chair lift to help her into the water, should the developer be surprised? And, would the plaintiff be wrong for suing the developer for noncompliance with the ADA? You decide.
Before the ADA, it was okay to build a movie theater with a step at the front entrance; it was okay to build retail stores with narrow doorways that don’t accommodate wheelchairs; it was okay to not include accessible parking spaces in parking lots, etc. What the ADA did was simply say that it’s not okay. Don’t we all agree on that? The bottom line is that, like many other laws, the ADA is well-intentioned and unfortunately taken advantage of at times.
We take great pride in advancing the goals of the ADA by working with our clients to create beautiful buildings that accommodate everyone.