Lawmakers want to stop lawyers from using the ADA to "extort" businesses

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

(KUTV) Lawyers abusing disability laws to make themselves rich, says UT Rep. Chris Stewart. Now, he is putting himself at the center of a political lightning rod by signing on to cosponsor legislation that would limit a disabled person’s right to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The 27-year-old law spells out all the rules companies must follow to make sure handicapped people can get into, out of and around their businesses.

But as Get Gephardt has been reporting, a wave of lawsuits is sweeping the nation over arguably small violations of the act and lawyers are cashing in.

For example, McGee's Stamp and Trophy in American Fork was slapped with a lawsuit over what the company's owner believes are minor violations of the ADA.

McGee’s had handicapped spaces painted with the handicapped logos but the parking stalls didn't have a "sign located sixty (60) inched above the ground" according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claimed the wheelchair ramp wasn't a gradual enough "slope."

McGee’s was never told about the issues or asked to fix them before being served with a lawsuit. To settle the suit, they had to pay an undisclosed amount.

McGee’s is among more than 100 businesses in Utah, and thousands of businesses around the country, that are being sued by a handful of plaintiffs and their lawyers for similar violations of the ADA.

The lawsuits and news stories about them have gotten the attention of federal lawmakers.

“This is something that we want to help with,” Rep. Stewart said.

H.R 620 is a bill that will require a disabled person to send "a written notice" to a business, give the business "60 days" to come up with a plan to fix the issue, then another "120 days" to actually fix the issue, before they could file a lawsuit.

"Some lawyers, and others, have taken [the ADA] and used it, frankly, as almost an extortion,” Stewart said. “Their efforts aren't to help people with disabilities. It's only about money."

Some advocates for the disabled are voicing concerns about the bill, specifically that businesses are being given several months to comply with a law that's already been on the books for nearly three decades.

Senator Tammy Duckworth from Illinois wrote on her Facebook page, "This vote is a disgrace to those who literally crawled up the steps of the United States Capitol so many years ago to secure the protections enshrined in the ADA as well as to all those who value liberty and justice for all."

Not all disabled are against tweaking the ADA.

Kraig McGee, who lost the ability to walk due to Multiple Sclerosis, says the lawsuits over “minor things” bring “kind of a negative perception of people in wheelchairs.”

“They're making it so frustrating for businesses that when businesses now see a person in a wheelchair, they shy away from us,” he said. “’Oh, there comes a person in a wheel chair. He might throw a lawsuit at us.’"

The bill has passed out of committee and will now go before the full House of Representatives for a vote.

Rep. Stewart says Congress has so much on its plate with healthcare, the budget and tax reform, that we likely won't see more moves on the bill this fall. He expects they will consider the bill in the Spring.

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