WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) will testify before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice today in favor of a new bill he introduced earlier this year seeking to protect small businesses from the widespread abuse of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by plaintiffs’ lawyers who Calvert says only “care about their own bank accounts.”

The ACCESS (ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services) Act, also known as H.R 241, would require an aggrieved person to notify a business of an ADA violation in writing and give the business owner 60 days to provide the aggrieved individual a detailed description of improvements to remedy the violation. Then, the owner would have 120 days to remove the infraction. Failure to meet these conditions would be grounds to further the lawsuit.

The Bizer Law Firm based in New Orleans has become notorious for filing a large number of ADA lawsuits in recent years. The law firm is currently representing three men suing the city of New Orleans, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA), and the RTA's private manager, Transdev, claiming lack of access to the St. Charles Streetcar, which the plaintiffs’ assert violates the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.

"While I don’t know all the details and can’t comment on this case in particular, we’ve recently seen a spike in civil lawsuits targeting property owners and small businesses for relatively minor violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)," Melissa Landry, executive director for the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, told the Louisiana Record. "We understand much of the ADA litigation in Louisiana has been driven by the Bizer Law Firm, which has reportedly filed more than 100 lawsuits on behalf of a small group of serial plaintiffs over the last five years. For example, one of the plaintiffs in this case is involved in more than a dozen other ADA lawsuits against local businesses."

In 2012, David Whitaker, partner at New Orleans-based defense firm Kean Miller, told Legal Newsline that Bizer's ADA lawsuits generally follow the same pattern and tend to be more focused on steering defendants into settlements rather than correcting the alleged violations.

"These complaints are like cookie-cutters," Whitaker said at the time. "They are all the same. The only thing that really changes is the name of the plaintiff."

Landry said that ADA is an important tool in ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to jobs and opportunities in our country. But the well-meaning law is being manipulated by some personal injury lawyers to make money at the expense of businesses and job creators.

"Property owners and small businesses in the Greater New Orleans area are especially vulnerable to this new wave of ADA litigation," Landry said. "For some small locally owned shops and restaurants who can’t afford to pay huge settlements or millions of dollars to renovate their old and sometimes historic properties, one lawsuit could be all it takes to put them out of business."

Calvert told the Louisiana Record that as a property owner himself, he has had to deal with complaints from people who find minor discrepancy in a building or in following the regulations; and instead of being given time to correct the infraction, owners get slapped with lawsuits and “lawyers get rich.”

 “We all want to have access (for) the disabled; we just don’t want to make this an excuse for lawyers to sue small business owners,” he said. “Nobody is objecting to making sure that we have access for the disabled.”

Calvert said some of the infractions are really minor, like not having a sign in the right location or neglecting to paint a line in the right way.

Instead of rushing to file lawsuits, Calvert said business owners should be given an opportunity to fix infractions and comply with the law.

Darren McKinney, director of communications for the American Tort Reform Association, told the Louisiana Record that the association is in full support of the bill.

“Although realistically, being an election year and with the stranglehold that the trial bar has on Senate Democrats generally, one can’t be particularly optimistic about the bill," he said. "But certainly it is needed; the congressman is to be applauded.”

McKinney said small businesses around the country are supportive of the bill because ADA lawsuits “are spreading like kudzu all around the country now.”

Calvert said the issue is not a Republican or Democrat issue, but just a common-sense solution to a problem.

“This is supposed to help people that are disabled, not help some attorney get his kids through college,” he said

But he’s expecting resistance from those “trying to enrich themselves on the backs of the disabled.”

“I don’t think those guys really give a hoot about the disabled; they care about their own bank accounts,” he said.

Calvert has never had a complaint from disabled groups about being given a chance to fix infractions. In fact, people with disabilities want to get the problem fixed to make sure they get access, he said.

“This is the kind of thing that is common-sense stuff, and I think we need to get this passed as soon as possible," he said.


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