Over the past few years, numerous small business owners have been hit with a frivolous Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit. It has been frustrating and disturbing to watch predatory attorneys wreak havoc in our community. Too often, I've heard the sad story of a business that didn't respond to a threatening letter and found themselves in court, or closing their doors out of fear. This predatory practice has cost California businesses millions. California has 40 percent of the nation's ADA lawsuits with 12 percent of the country's disabled population.
Numerous workshops were held by TahoeChamber to educate business owners on best practices for dealing with ADA standards alongside far-reaching advocacy. Conditions were so appalling that we finally saw both sides of the aisle come together in the development and support for a bill to ease the burdens. Thus I am gratified at the bipartisan agreement that led to Gov. Jerry Brown signing SB 1186 (Steinberg; D-Sacramento/Dutton; R-Rancho Cucamonga) this week.
The bill took effect immediately upon being signed. Provisions of the bill that should ease the burden on business include:
n Bans the dreaded practice known as "demand for money" letters from attorneys; letters can still be sent to alert businesses of potential infractions and violations.
n Attorneys must send a copy of their letters to the California State Bar and the California Commission on Disabilities. This ensures legal standards are met while keeping track of attorneys filing the bulk of the lawsuits.
n Provides an avenue for communities to expand their Certified Access Specialist, or CASp inspection programs, giving businesses an opportunity to be proactive in becoming ADA compliant. A CASp is certified by the State to create accessibility plans for businesses to follow in becoming compliant.
n The bill reduces statutory damages by as much as 75 percent by putting new provisions into place to prevent "stacking" of multiple claims and provides litigation protections for defendants whose violations are corrected.
I commend all the local business owners who shared their experiences contributing to upward dissemination of information. This bill exemplifies what can be accomplished when our national political leaders (Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) through all levels of state government - governor's office, assembly and senate - come together to balance various needs. I hope that this may be a precursor to improvements and understanding, at the state and federal levels, of the importance of considering the needs of small businesses. Given that the majority of jobs in our community and nationwide were created by small- and medium-size businesses, and as such are the basis of our economy, it is critical for our elected leadership to fully understand and review intended and unintended implications of existing, and future policy decisions if we are truly going to create a prosperous economy.
- "B" Gorman, J.D., A.C.E., is the president and CEO of TahoeChamber.