Disabled-Access Lawsuits against Small Businesses on the Rise

disabled-access lawsuits, Illinois small business law attorney, disabled testers, federal disability law, federal ADA standards, Gierach Law FirmIn recent years, small business owners have faced an increase in disabled-access lawsuits filed by non-patrons of their business. In fact, from the beginning of 2014 through June 30, 2014, 1,939 lawsuits were filed under the section of the federal disability law that provides enhanced accessibility requirements for all public places, including small businesses. This number of lawsuits is 55 percent higher than the amount of disability-access suits filed for the same time period in 2013.

It is believed that this increase in disability-access lawsuits is the effect of recent appeals-court decisions that resulted in the creation of the concept of “disabled testers,” which is the idea that one who is not an actual patron of a business could still be considered a “tester” of the business’s compliance with disabled-access laws. For example, supermarkets have faced increasing lawsuits for alleged injuries sustained on their sites by non-patrons who were still considered testers of their facility’s disabled-access compliance with regards to guardrails, wheelchair ramps, and other safeguards.

The Increase in Disabled-Access Suits

In addition to the creation of disabled tester status, recently released federal regulations regarding building disability access compliance specifications have also facilitated the rise in suits. In 2012, the U.S. Justice Department released a new set of compliance standards that replaced the federal disability laws for the first time in over 20 years. Known as the ADA Standards for Accessible Designs, these updated standards finally provided detailed specifications for already existing requirements, including the allowable slope for wheelchair ramps, and the required height for towel dispensers in restrooms.

For the advocates of the disabled, many view these enhanced disabled-access standards as providing a way to prod businesses to stop ignoring the needs of the disabled, especially those who ignore requests and letters to comply with federal disabled-access requirements. Though this may be the case, it is business owners who pay the costs associated with this uptick in disabled-access suits; under federal law, those who bring suits under disabled-access laws cannot be awarded damages. However, they can be entitled to reimbursement for attorney’s fees. As a result, a business owner can be forced to pay both their own attorney’s fees and also the plaintiffs attorney’s fees in federal disabled-access suits. Even settlement fees for such cases can end up costing business owners between a few thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for renovations in order to fix the disabled-access defect.

Small businesses are most heavily hit by disabled-access suits because they do not have the funds and legal departments at their disposal the way that big businesses and corporations do. As a result, it is extremely important that small business owners become very aware and knowledgeable of the newly expanded disabled access laws released by the federal government. Understanding and complying with these standards can make the difference between a new small business’s success or failure. Click here for more information about the federal ADA standards.

If you need professional legal assistance or representation in a small business law-related legal issue,  please contact the Illinois small business law attorneys at Gierach Law Firm. We are prepared to help you in any way that we can.