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Disabled persons advocate says piles of lawsuits show ADA working as designed

Disables persons advocate says piles of lawsuits show ADA working as designed (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) By law, business owners must make their business accessible to people in wheel chairs. But several business owners say the law is being abused by certain disabled people and their lawyers.

It's a practice known as drive-by-lawsuits. A business finds itself sued over some relatively small violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Business owners are they're told to not only fix the issue but pay money to the person suing to settle the lawsuit.

It's abusive, say some lawmakers and business owners. But, advocates for the disabled say, actually, that's exactly the way the law was designed to work.

Laurene Hutchings, who owns Timp Floral in American Fork, and Jesse McGee, who owns McGee's Stamp and Trophy across the street, are among more than 100 businesses along State Street from Thanksgiving Point to the University Mall to be surprised by a lawsuit.

McGee, whose wheelchair bound son works at McGee’s, says the lawsuit that hit him focused on ticky-tacky violations.

“Our signs weren't exactly 60 inches [off the ground],” he said. “The ramp was maybe a few degrees off.”

Business owners to whom Get Gephardt has spoken argue the law is being abused, but Aaron Kinikini, legal director at Utah's Disability Law Center, says that's the way the law is supposed to work.

There's no federal agency that polices violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act - only people willing to sue.

"Ironically,” says the non-profit lawyer whose job it is to use the law to fight for disabled people, “I think the enforcement mechanisms behind the ADA are a little bit too reliant on private attorneys."

Kinikini says he understands why the sued business owners are frustrated, but says that owning a business comes with clearly defined legal responsibilities.

“It’s to ensure that people with disabilities are going to have equal access to your goods and services," he said.

Still, the so-called drive-by-lawsuits are making a lot of people mad - people who want to see the ADA changed. Right now, in Washington, and in states around the country, including Utah, there action underway to try and reign people accused of abusing their rights under the ADA.

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