Utah County woman and her lawyer son sue more than 100 businesses for ADA violations
(KUTV) Kraig McGee works at his family's business, McGee's Stamp and Trophy in American Fork. Multiple Sclerosis has confined him to a wheelchair but he says getting around work isn't a problem.
So imagine his surprise when McGee's was served with a lawsuit saying they were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"I was upset," he said.
Owner Jesse McGee, who opened the business more than 50 years ago, said he was "shocked" when he was served with the lawsuit. He said his business has worked hard to ensure they comply with the disability rules.
“We had our signs up. We had a ramp. We had our parking lot marked. [McGee's was] totally accessible,” Jesse said.
But, according to the lawsuit, McGee’s is guilty of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yes, they had handicapped spaces painted with the handicapped logos, but they didn't have a, "sign located 60 inches above the ground."
McGee's also had a wheelchair ramp, but the ramp wasn't a gradual enough "slope," according to the lawsuit.
Jesse said he wonders why the woman suing chose to call a lawyer rather than call him and ask him to fix the issues first.
More baffling still: the person doing the suing. Jesse says they have no record of the plaintiff ever being a patron of McGee’s.
“[We have] no record of her coming in here,” he said.
It's a story echoed by Laurene Hutchings, owner of Timp Floral, which is also being sued.
“I think if she were a hero she could send out a letter saying, hey, I've noticed this a problem. Can we fix it? That's a hero: making a person aware of something that's wrong. Giving them the opportunity to change it, fix it, without making us have to give her money for it,” she said.
Hutchings also said she has no record that the woman suing her has ever been to her business. As a result of the lawsuit, she said her business had to “really cut a lot of things to be able to stay in business."
The people behind the lawsuits are the mother and son team of Carolyn and Adam Ford. Adam Ford is the attorney. Carolyn Ford is the plaintiff. According to the lawsuits, Carolyn Ford suffers from "pernicious anemia" as well as a "rare disease" called "stiff person syndrome."
So far they've filed lawsuits against 114 businesses, primarily following a line straight down state street from Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah to the University Mall in Orem.
Get Gephardt left multiple messages for Adam Ford over a period of several weeks. He didn't call back. So, without a phone number for his mom, we stopped by her home.
Carolyn Ford didn't come to the door, but her husband provided us Adam Ford's cell phone number and, with that, we were finally able to reach him.
He said his mom has been a patron of “every one” of the businesses she has sued.
“How this all started was with my mother falling and being injured at a number, at a number of places," Ford said.
Ford claims he and his mom used to notify businesses of violations before suing, but he said that those calls and letters were usually ignored.
“When we filed lawsuits, the attitude changed 180 degrees. Immediately, upon consulting with legal counsel, the businesses all uniformly said, ‘We are so sorry. We are happy to get our businesses into compliance and we'll do so,’” Ford said.
The settlement agreements gag the businesses from telling anyone how much they paid to make the lawsuit go away, but Ford said it's not about the money, rather getting dangerous issues fixed and keeping disabled people, like his mom, safe.
“[The changes that have come from the lawsuits are] a wonderful thing for disabled people in this area. I don't apologize for that at all,” Ford said.
But Kraig McGee said he thinks these lawsuits are actually giving people with disabilities, like himself, a bad name.
“It brings kind of a negative perception of people in wheelchairs when minor things are sued over,” he said. “They're making it so frustrating for businesses that when businesses now see a person in a wheel chair they shy away from us. ‘Oh there comes a person in a wheel chair. He might throw a lawsuit at us.’”