DENVER - A Colorado congressman is hoping legislation will stem a flood of lawsuits targeting businesses in the name of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"It is infuriating that someone has to close their business because of a technical violation,” Rep. Ken Buck said Monday in response to a Denver7 investigation.
Denver7 Investigates looked into 65 lawsuits filed against Colorado businesses by a Florida man named Santiago Abreu. The lawsuits claim the businesses are discriminating against people with disabilities, because their layouts do not meet ADA requirements.
One of the business owners, Michael Abbondanza, told Denver7 he will likely have to close his business in rural Bailey, because he can’t afford to fight the lawsuit from a one-time customer claiming that, among other issues, the urinal in his bathroom is placed too high.
Abbondanza claimed the plaintiff’s attorney offered to settle the case for $15,000 – raising a question in his mind about whether the lawsuits are about making money, rather than an effort to force ADA fixes. Rep. Buck said he has the same questions.
"The Americans with Disabilities Act is a great act, and it serves a great purpose, and it was done for all the right reasons,” Rep. Buck told Denver7. “This wasn't one of the reasons -- to discriminate against business owners because of a technical violation."
Buck is one of the 54 co-sponsors on legislation that would give businesses 120 days to fix the problems alleged in an ADA compliance complaint before they can be sued. Right now businesses targeted by lawsuits from private citizens who work as “ADA testers” face paying out expensive attorney fees to settle lawsuits even if they fix the problems.
“It's public education. It's all about letting the public know just as you're doing now with Channel 7,” Buck said. “How does the public react when they hear about people losing their jobs because a mirror is a quarter inch too high?”
An attorney for Abreu released a statement about his ADA lawsuits, reading in part:
As you have learned and contacted me for comment, this law firm has asserted a number of federal lawsuits against restaurants and taverns, which have discriminated against disabled Americans and violated federal law. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in force for over twenty-five years, yet the number of restaurants and taverns that have been in violation of the ADA and continue to violate the law is astounding. We have filed these lawsuits in our efforts to make a change, enforce the law, and help disabled Americans to try and live as normal lives as they can.
It might surprise you to know that there are over forty three million (43,000,000) Americans who live with disabilities caused by one or more conditions. Many of the disabled are returning veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world, who lost their limbs or suffered other disabling injuries, while serving our country. Since they are disabled and unable to live completely normal lives, their next, collective greatest hope is to live lives that are as close to normal as possible; to be able to have as many of the experiences in everyday life that those of us without disabilities too often take for granted. The disabled Americans simply wish to enjoy the freedom to live as normally as they can; they wish to go to restaurants, movies and other places, just like able bodied Americans do, and not be shut away in group homes, sad and unnecessarily excluded from the societal interaction we all crave as human beings.