Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) issued the following remarks in support of H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. H.R. 620 is a bipartisan bill that promotes access for persons with disabilities and gives business owners and local communities the tools they need to accommodate all their visitors without fear of a lawsuit.
Chairman Goodlatte: Private enforcement of Title III of the ADA is a critical tool for disabled individuals to gain access to places like restaurants and shopping centers. Most business owners, however, feel blindsided when they’re sued for violations they were unaware of.
This has been the case even for disabled business owners who have testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Lee Ky testified in 2016. She runs one of her family’s donut shops that was sued for technical violations of the ADA because a restroom sign was in the shape of a triangle instead of a square. A person who has never walked in her life, Ky testified that she is proud of this nation’s effort to improve accessibility by enacting the ADA, but thinks that businesses should be given an opportunity to remove barriers before getting sued.
Donna and David Batelaan have also testified. They were co-owners of a store that sold accessibility devices in Florida. Despite employing two people who used wheelchairs, despite themselves using wheelchairs, and despite the fact that virtually their entire clientele was composed of customers who had mobility limitations, they were sued because they had not painted lines and posted a sign for a “handicapped” spot required by the ADA. Indeed, according to their testimony, it was later found that they had been just one of many businesses targeted by an unscrupulous, out-of-state attorney. According to Mrs. Batelaan, it didn’t matter that their parking lot and store were “totally accessible”; it was greed that was driving these suits.
These examples are among many shared by businesses across the country. The ADA’s private right of action, which was originally intended to be the primary enforcement mechanism to achieve greater access, has instead encouraged a cottage industry of costly and wasteful litigation that neither benefits the business nor disabled individuals seeking more accessibility. A report aired on 60 Minutes, on December 4, 2016, for example, featured several small business owners who were subject to what are known as ‘‘drive-by’’ lawsuits. In such lawsuits, commonly filed by opportunistic trial lawyers, the plaintiff need only drive by the property, not actually visit it, to file a lawsuit alleging an ADA violation. In other cases, plaintiffs can even use Google Earth to target alleged violations and in turn file lawsuits before even notifying a small business owner of the problem.
The fact that these types of small businesses are ill-equipped to defend an ADA lawsuit is the reason why they’re sued. Indeed, opportunistic attorneys are more often willing to settle for just less than it would cost those mom-and-pop businesses to defend themselves in court. According to a 2017 op-ed published in The Hill, a conservative estimate of the average settlement amount is $7,500.
Given that plaintiff attorneys’ motive is often to line their own pockets, there is little or no incentive to work with businesses to cure a violation before a lawsuit is filed. This results in wasted resources that could have been used to improve access.
H.R. 620 is a common-sense solution because it gives businesses a fair chance to cure Title III violations before they are forced into a lawsuit while still preserving the power of the threat of a lawsuit when businesses fail to make the required fixes in a timely manner. H.R. 620 will create more access for more Americans more quickly because businesses would much rather fix an access problem quickly than face unpredictable and expensive litigation that could hurt their ability to expand access in other ways.
I urge all my colleagues to support this commonsense reform.