BY: Steven D. Leach, Esq. of Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, P.L.C.
Since February 2016, local businesses have faced an onslaught of lawsuits filed on behalf of Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (“AID”) and related entities and individuals. The 1,500 plus cases generally allege violations of Americans with Disabilities Act regulations regarding parking lot accommodations for disabled individuals. The suits seek remediation of the violation and attorney’s fees.
Targeted businesses face a dilemma. In most cases the violations, albeit minor (for example, not having van accessible signage, or signage that is not the requisite 60 inches above the parking lot surface), are real. Although some defenses may exist, defending the suits will be expensive; usually far more expensive than fixing the violation. Moreover, AID’s settlement demands, often starting at $7,500 and capable of being negotiated down to around $4,000, make litigation economically infeasible. Defendants, faced with paying their own attorney’s fees and possibly Plaintiff’s fees, often decided that settling the suit early and fixing the violation is more cost effective than litigating the case.
Recently, however, the Arizona Attorney General (AG) has stepped in to even the playing field by filing a motion to intervene in one of the cases and then moving to consolidate all the pending cases not already resolved by settlement. The motions were granted, and now those cases are consolidated before a single judge and essentially being defended by the AG for the purpose of asserting common procedural and jurisdictional defenses. Moreover, the Court stayed the consolidated cases so that defendants in those cases need take no action to answer the complaint or respond to discovery. The AG’s office will in time file a motion to dismiss all the suits.
Unfortunately, this battle is far from over. AID is taking steps to correct some of the procedural deficiencies of its claims with the goal of defeating the expected motion to dismiss. At the same time, AID is looking to expand its operation to other states, posting job opportunities for attorneys in Albuquerque, Denver, and Las Vegas.
If you were already targeted by one of these suits, talk to your lawyer or contact the AG’s office to ensure your case was consolidated into the action being defended by the AG. If your business is a public accommodation, and therefore governed by the ADA, consider retaining an ADA expert to inspect your property to discover – and fix – any violations. The easiest way to avoid these suits, and potential ADA liability, is to make sure your property is ADA compliant.
The discussion here is provided as an overview and is not meant to be comprehensive. Nothing in this article is meant to constitute legal advice. For further questions, please contact Steven D. Leach, Esq. or other lawyer knowledgeable in this field.