Runaway ADA Lawsuits - and My Proposal

This post could also be titled Reason #634 to be scared of doing business in California.  In a frightening trend, California passes yet another law giving citizens and their lawyers seeking unearned windfalls to police small, picky violations of regulations by filing large and expensive-to-fight suits (see also sue-your-boss law)  From the central Californian Santa Maria Times the story of Jarek Molski, who makes a very good living for himself suing public businesses over tiny, technical ADA violations:

Molski's suit against the Hitching Post in Casmalia alleged a wheelchair ramp was too steep, and the bathroom wasn't accessible because the toilet was a half inch too close to the wall; and the sink was three inches too high, and the soap dispenser was too high.

What do such picayune violations cost?  Mr. Molski averages a $20,000 settlement in such cases, though usually demands much more at first.  And, by the crazy Unruh law in California, targets get no time to redress these faults before up to $4000 per day per violation can be extorted sued for.

So is this an isolated incident?  Well, Mr. Molski is but one person in the ADA lawsuit business, and

As of Friday, 528 cases were listed under Molski's name in federal civil courts

Without reasonable standards, and with huge gains to be made for picayune rules interpretations, one victim summed it up this way:

"I've talked to about five people in Solvang and Cambria who have been sued twice in the last year," Stricklin said. "They're stuck. Unless you close your doors, somebody else can come along and sue you, and that's why we're fighting. If they can see that we're not going to roll over and settle, they'll think twice about going to trial."

My Proposal

So, I would like to propose my own Unruh II law.  I propose that in California, every citizen now has the right to sue any other person they observe violating any sort of traffic law.  If you observe someone speeding, doing a rolling stop at a stop sign, failing to signal a lane change or turn, with a burned out tail light, not wearing a seat belt, jaywalking, etc, you may now sue them for $4000 per occurrence. 

Coming in future posts, I will propose Unruh III to empower citizens to sue over health code violations, Unruh IV to empower citizens to sue over fire code violations, and Unruh V to sue anyone for any reason if they have a net worth higher than you do.

  • Kathi Finnerty, Esq.

    The ADA, as enforced through the Unruh Act, has gone well beyond reason; however, people must remember that the courts are obligated to enforce the law as it is written. It is the law that is poorly implemented because it fails to recognize good faith efforts at becoming compliant, and sets up a virtual strict liability for businesses, even those with good intentions and reasonable efforts. Yes, there must be some push back against the plaintiffs and their lawyers - BUT THOSE CASES MUST BE CAREFULLY SELECTED. Only cases premised on good facts should be tried, otherwise there is a significant risk of inexperienced lawyers with angry but wealthy clients making the law worse than it already is. The rage, justified as it is, should be directed at the legislature. The Governor is aware of these lawsuit abuses and needs the groundswell support to revise the Unruh Act and Disabled Persons Act in California. Support AB 1707!

  • LX

    People must also remember that the courts posess the power to rule as to the enforceability of laws, either on constitutional or procedural grounds.

    In this case, judges presiding over these sorts of lawsuits need to be evaluating if the ADA, as it is currently on the books, creates a litigious environment where any two-bit shyster with a professional plaintiff can use the law to engage in what amounts to court-enforced extortion. If judges find that the law is too easily abused, then they have a duty to strike it down.

    As a footnote, it is worth noting that Jarek Molski was recently declared a vexatious litigant by a federal judge in California. So for now, at least, his shenanigans are over.

    Disclaimer: IANAL

  • Frank

    But your honor, the sink was only a little bit beyond his reach.

    Sure the ramp was too steep and it requires extra effort for the wheelchair bound to enter, but hey, they're handicapped - it should take them extra effort.

    " Unless you close your doors, somebody else can come along and sue you"

    This is just an idea- don't close your doors, come into compliance, then they can't sue you.

    As was said 40 years ago: I got nothing against niggers voting, long as they qualified niggers.

  • John

    What most people seem to forget is that the ADA protects disabled peoples civil rights. If a business told a person "We don't allow people of your race in here." Most of you people would seeking the owners hide on a wall, and you know what, you would right! Did you ever ask yourselves why did they create the ADA? They made it because disabled people were being abused. They were expected to stay locked away and not be seen. They couldn't get into stores, they could fired, just for being disabled.
    Businesses claim they can't afford to comply with the law. Most businesses I have seen it would only take a very small amount of money to comply. One of the biggest places they need to comply is hiring real live human beings, people who have a little bit of compassion on people when the need help. There are others laws out there that are very expensive to comply with. Try complying with the Chicago fire codes, there are some big bucks. In some communities around Chicago, to get a business license the owner must show he has a 24 hour a day monitored fire alarm system which connects to the fire dept. This usually runs a business several thousand dollars a year. How can a business complain because they have to have a handicapped parking spot? I live in Florida and if you go to Wal-Mart you have to fight for a handicapped parking place.
    We disabled people don't want to sue people, we have enough problems dealing with our physical conditions. We just want to go shopping or have a job just like anyone else. You want to try something, spend a day in a wheelchair and see what you think about businesses that have aisles so narrow you can't get down. Or businesses that have bathrooms so small you can't use them. Then you can tell me if you think that business should sued!

  • The State of California Superior Court lawsuit judge in the Molski vs Hitching Post case has a pretty good way to deal with Molski and others like Molski- he set the next hearing date for 364 days later(hearings have to less than one year apart). If Molski is stupid enough to come then and pay his attorney again, the judge will keep on setting another and then another hearing date until Molski gives up. The intent is in what the judge said to Molski, right after setting the next hearing date, : "You are a danger to society. Get out of here".

  • Technomad

    Not every Bad Thing that happens to some but not to others is Jim Crow Mk. II. The courts had to blow up the logjam to get rid of Jim Crow, but didn't specifically state that this was a _one-time_ deal to deal with a uniquely bad situation that had gone out of control by any other means. This created endless precedents for any "aggrieved" group to lash out with lawsuits.

    Personally, I'd like to see "loser-pays" made the rule in US courts, as it is in the UK. And some of the lawyers who game the system so shamelessly disbarred.

  • Bobby Dias , again. This time to leave a bit about some happened the 1970, at Denny's in Santa Maria. I was sitting at the counter at the north end. In comes a black couple(man and woman) and they see the waitress at the south en, so they turn around and go to a booth at the north end. Thenthey start yalking about leaving as soon as the waitress comes towards them and then they would threaten Denny's to pay them out of court- the charge supposedly racism. Before that waitress had a chance to go to them the second waitress came out and picked up her tips on the table next to the black couple, then goes back to her scheduled break. The black woman says to the man for them to go to that waitress' table so they can say two waitress failed to serve them because of racism. About 30 seconds went by, then the black couple left. I went to the Denny's manager and told them what I had heard and made a formal statement. That couple was sent to prision- on an out-of-court deal!!