NEW ORLEANS — The executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) thinks there's something fishy about recent lawsuits filed against four seafood restaurants in Alabama and Mississippi alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act — along with many others like them.
Hope Elly, who is dependent on mobility aides to get around, filed complaints against Half Shell Oyster House in Biloxi, Mississippi; and Pelican Pub in Dauphin Island and Lucy Buffett’s Lulu’s and Sea N Suds in Gulf Shores, Alabama, alleging she is being denied "full and equal enjoyment of the defendants’ premises on the basis of her disabilities,” according to the lawsuits.
Elly requested that the the violations corrected and that each of the business owners pay her legal fees.
Represented by The ADA Group LLC in Montgomery, Alabama, Elly stated that she does not have access to adequate handicapped parking spaces, as well as access to the entrances, service counters, bar areas and gift shops in the restaurants. She also claimed that there is also not adequate space in the restrooms or access to sinks. At Half Shell, Elly and other disabled patrons cannot access the second floor.
LLAW Executive Director Melissa Landry said she thinks there's much more going on, however.
“It is part of a growing epidemic of trial lawyers and serial litigants taking advantage of the ADA to force small businesses into settlements,” Landry told the Louisiana Record. “By and large, these kinds of cases do not actually improve access. Court records show they are most often settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.”
Landry said that some plaintiffs have sued eight or nine businesses in a single day. The ADA Group has filed 38 lawsuits over handicap inaccessibility since 2012.
ADA law states that “a public accommodation shall ensure that wheelchair spaces and companion seats are provided in each specialty seating area that provides spectators with distinct services or amenities that generally are not available to other spectators. If it is not readily achievable for a public accommodation to place wheelchair spaces and companion seats in each such specialty seating area, it shall provide those services or amenities to individuals with disabilities and their companions at other designated accessible locations at no additional cost.”
The current Lulu’s location was built 2004 according to court documents, while Pelican Pub was built in 1986 with renovations completed earlier this year. Half Shell Oyster House and Sea N Suds were built in 1962 and had renovations in 2011. The ADA was put into effect in January 1992, requiring that all businesses built before and after comply with the act.
Despite cases like Elly’s being possible lawsuit abuse, Landry said she believes the best thing for owners to do is make sure they are as compliant as possible to protect themselves from potential litigation.
Tracy Birdsong and Landis Sexton, two of Elly’s attorneys, did not respond to a request for an interview.