Measure to Increase Disabled Access, Curb ADA Abuses Sent to Governor
(Sacramento) – Democrats and Republicans have joined together to support legislation to end unfair legal practices that prey on California businesses while also encouraging businesses to correct violations and provide full and equal access for those who are disabled.
SB 1186 (Steinberg/Dutton), now heading to the Governor’s desk for signature, bans the abusive practice by some attorneys of issuing “demand for money” letters to businesses that allegedly have construction-related barriers to access in violation of state and federal disabled access laws. The measure also significantly reduces damages against business owners who correct alleged violations within 30 to 60 days of receiving a complaint. The Senate passed the bill with strong bipartisan support, 34 - 3. As an urgency measure, it will take effect immediately upon signature of the Governor.
“Championing civil rights for the disabled is what first motivated me to get into public service. The Unruh Civil Rights Act is one of the great laws of this diverse state, and including ADA violations within the protections of the Unruh Act was the right thing to do in 1992. At the same time, it’s just plain wrong that some attorneys abuse the law by filing paper against businesses all over the state, making multiple claims for the same violation to pressure a quick settlement, and demanding money with the threat of a lawsuit over minor violations of disabled access laws,” said Steinberg. “SB 1186 is a compromise that applies a common sense approach to resolve difficult issues. In the end, this will give some relief to entrepreneurs who show good faith in trying to follow the law and are willing to correct the violation. Ultimately this measure promotes compliance and brings greater access to the disabled community.”
In addition to banning “demand for money” letters, which often result in a swift out-of court settlement without the actual correction of a violation, the bill requires more specific details in any complaint alleging barriers to disabled access. It also prevents “stacking” of multiple claims to increase monetary damages, requiring a plaintiff to explain the need for multiple visits to the same business with a known uncorrected barrier to access. In one known instance, a person asserted 30 violations at the same business within less than 30 days. Such threats for high damages often intimidate property owners who feel pressured to quickly settle the claim for lesser damages.
The legislation also makes it a priority for the California Commission on Disability Access to develop and disseminate educational materials and information to promote and facilitate compliance with the law. In addition, it provides for more certified access specialists in local building departments to ensure new construction and improvement projects don’t get approved unless they comply with disability access requirements.
Lastly, there are provisions designed to avoid confusion and unnecessary litigation with the upcoming publication and adoption of the 2013 California Building Standards Code. Once the code is published, it doesn’t become effective for 180 days. The bill provides that upon the publication date of the new 2013 code yet before its effective date, the property owner may choose to comply with the 2013 Building Code provisions regarding construction-related accessibility standards in any Unruh damages claim.