Imagine this … you open your mailbox and find a letter from the IRS stating that you owe $80,000 in back taxes and you’re under audit!
How does your stomach feel? Sick? Like you just ate some bad sushi? Well, that’s how thousands of Arizona business owners are feeling lately. For all of us Californian business owners, we know this feeling well.
But for many business owners in Arizona, this is all new and they can’t believe that over 40,000 “warning letters” for noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been filed against them in just the past two years.
All these “warning letters” were filed by one attorney claiming to represent the state’s community of individuals with disabilities. To make things even worse, the lawsuits are only really benefitting the attorney who is filing them.
They are also causing ill-will toward the disability community across the state — just like here in California for the past decade.
So, let’s dig below the surface and analyze how these “drive by lawsuits” take place in Arizona!
- An individual attorney created an organization named “Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities” (AID).
- This attorney then recruits individuals with disabilities and uses them as a pretext for filing “warning letters” against businesses that he determines are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- This attorney then drives around to businesses and takes pictures of various violations which include:
- Sign height and type including wording and fine amount.
- Parking stall layout, width, depth and surface slope.
- Curb ramp placement, run slope, cross slope and top landing clear space and slope.
- This attorney then notifies the business owner that, on behalf of his “disabled client”, he will settle with them if they pay a fee, which on average is around $5000.
- The “disabled client” (who in most cases has never been to the business where they claim they encountered the barriers) is paid a “finder’s fee” from the attorney.
- The attorney himself keeps the lions share of the money.
Seems pretty simple right?
So why aren’t these lawsuits leading to more ADA compliance from businesses? Because, in most cases this attorney never follows up with the business owner to confirm that they removed the barriers called out in the suit.
Of course, this attorney is more than happy to take the business owners money but there’s “ZERO” follow up after the fact.
Now, some in Arizona are questioning if the fees are legal and whether the individuals represented by this attorney even have standing. They would have to have patronized, or attempted to patronize, the business. It must be seen from the court that they would patronize the business a second time if those accommodations were provided. However, none of that is happening.
In most cases, these “disabled clients” never even visited the property in question, and if they did, they never attempted to park and exit their vehicle.
This “Total Scam” is being played by one attorney on hundreds of small business across the state. Most of these business owners think they are being extorted by an attorney who really has no interest in seeing positive change take place.
One of the unintended consequences of this “ADA SCAM” is the effect on the true disabled community in Arizona.
This type of scamming is giving the disabled community an unfair “bad reputation” because business owners are now associating many disabled individuals that come through the front door as a potential plaintiff.
I’ll give you a real-life situation that was brought to my attention while I was inspecting a small hair salon in Scottsdale a few months ago.
The owner of the salon told me about a case of mistaken identity (or just straight fear) on behalf of one of her employees’. One morning, a woman pulled up into the Van Accessible stall in front of the salon and the disabled driver then proceeded to exit her van using the wheelchair lift. The employee inside the salon watched this disabled woman exit the van in her motorized wheelchair.
As she was heading towards the curb ramp, this disabled woman stopped and pulled out her phone, looked up at the salon’s front door and then looked back at her phone. It was then the salon employee ran to the front door and locked it, put the “closed” sign up and shut the blinds on the windows.
The disabled woman tried entering the salon but was met by a locked door. A few minutes later the salon phone rang and it was the disabled woman outside. After explaining who she was and that she had an appointment, the employee opened the door and let her in.
It turns out that the disabled woman was the wife of the owner of the shopping center that this salon business leases from.
Can you say “awkward”?
It turns out that the employee at the salon didn’t know who she was and merely “pre-judged” her based on her fear of getting sued by an ADA activist.
I refer to them as “ADA Mafia & their Professional Pawns” (see my other post on this topic here)
Besides the financial devastation, this is just one example of the negative social impact that these types of lawsuits are creating across this nation.
This has to stop. It just has to!
What do you do?
If you have received a “warning letter” or just have questions, please reach out to me directly.