Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Reforming the Americans With Disabilities Act

San Diego attorney Theodore A. Pinnock is a self-styled disability rights lawyer who has filed nearly 2000 lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Mr. Pinnock recently demanded more that $200,000 from 67 businesses in the historic mining town of Julian, CA for alleged violations of the ADA. Mr. Pinnock apparently claims he visited Julian over a recent holiday weekend and found a number of properties that he believes do not provide a sufficient level of disabled access.

Passed in 1990, the ADA has helped ensure equal access to public and private facilities. In addition to calling for building standards to be user-friendly for disabled patrons, the federal law also allows individuals harmed by a violation to sue for monetary damages. California is one of only three states that also allows an injured party to recover extra monetary sums (attorneys' fees, punitive damages, etc.). Allegations of abuse of the ADA law, and the gross number of cases filed in courts, have skyrocketed in recent years.

Mr. Pinnock has engaged in case-by-case litigation of ADA lawsuits for years. Now Mr. Pinnock has embarked on what he is calling the "Julian Experiment", basically to test his theory that it is more efficient to sue an entire community rather than pursue individual violators of the ADA. Unfortunately, Mr. Pinnock's approach comes with a hefty price tag and no guarantee that business owners will be protected from future ADA lawsuits.

In Mr. Pinnock's latest settlement demand (which has now been removed from his website), he proposed that all 67 Julian business owners select one attorney to negotiate a settlement agreement on behalf of the entire community. Mr. Pinnock gave the business owners less than one day to select this attorney. Mr. Pinnock also gave each business owner until December 9, 2005 to pay him $900 and he has not even provided a specific list of ADA violations for each property. The money is payable now and the scope of the unknown repairs would be subject to further negotiation.

Julian was hit hard by the fires of October 2003. Nearly one quarter of the local residents lost their homes and tourism still suffers. Mr. Pinnock's hard deadlines will only inflict further economic hardship on Julian businesses and make it nearly impossible for the owners to get qualified legal advice before the deadlines pass.

The California legislature recently rejected a proposal to give property owners a 120-day window to correct violations before an ADA lawsuit could be filed. Mr. Pinnock's "take it or leave it" settlement tactics indicate the rejection of this legislation was premature. California and the federal government should act now to protect small business owners from abusive ADA lawsuits.

For more information on about how you can help the citizens of Julian, please contact us or the San Diego Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

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