Monday, August 18, 2008

Lawsuits remind businesses they need to comply with ADA

From the Wichita, Kan., Business Journal. My comment is that if businesses would have complied 18 years ago when the ADA was passed, they wouldn't face these lawsuits today.

A Wichita paraplegic has filed at least a dozen lawsuits in the past year against local businesses, claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuits, which could cost area businesses thousands of dollars, send a stern message: ADA compliance needs to be taken seriously.

But compliance can also cost a business dearly, says Jo Zakas, owner of Clifton Square LLC. Making necessary changes to her College Hill shopping area could cost her as much as $275,000 -- making it impossible to make the changes and stay afloat financially.

"It's a no-win situation," she says.

Alan Rupe, who manages the Wichita office of Kutak Rock LLP, says the recent lawsuits are a reminder that businesses cannot overlook ADA issues.

He says it is a "pay now or pay later" mentality. Addressing ADA issues now might prevent a lawsuit later.

"If businesses are in compliance then they should have nothing to worry about," Rupe says.

Linda Hamilton's lawsuits claim businesses she visited were not ADA compliant, including inadequate parking, entrance accessibility challenges and restroom facilities that were too small for a person in a wheelchair.

Hamilton hired Schwartz Zweben & Slingbaum LLP, a national law firm that has filed thousands of similar ADA lawsuits across the country.

She says the lawsuits aren't about money, but improving civil rights."

My mission is to remove barriers and improve accessibility for the disabled," she says.

Enacted in 1990, the ADA requires businesses to remove barriers that discriminate against patrons who have disabilities. Businesses created before the act must comply to the extent they can "reasonably" do so.

While the law does not authorize monetary damages for the plaintiffs, a lawsuit can cost a business hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees as well as any needed modifications to comply with ADA regulations.