Has your landlord shifted American Disabilities Act liability to you?

The American With Disabilities Act is a civil rights law, designed to prevent discrimination against the disabled. Although passed with good intentions, the application of the act has proven controversial, opportunistic for some plaintiffs (and their lawyers), and for some small businesses, very costly.

It is a federal act but gives great leeway to states on how to enforce it. In a lot of states, injunctive relief is the only remedy (plus attorneys fees). That’s just a fancy way of saying if you get sued under the ADA in some states, you will have to fix the violation, pay the attorneys fees, and that’s it.

In California however, the violations may run afoul of a few state acts, including the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act, allowing state claims damages to be added on. On top of all that, treble damages may also be added. Treble damages are just another fancy legal term, meaning the judge can add another amount, up to 3 times the original damages, to the judgment. ¬†Oh yeah, each occurence gives rise to a violation. So if you visit a place twice, that’s two violations.

It’s no wonder then, California, 1/50th of the United States, is home to over 40% of all ADA lawsuits. What this means is that you are at risk of being sued under the ADA and other related acts.

Usually the landlord and the owner of the business (if not the same person) or both liable for any lawsuits under the ADA. However some landlords may have shifted the burden of this liability to the tenant. So go and read your lease to see if such a shift has occurred.

Whether it has or not, it’s a good idea to brush up on ADA requirements and examine your business location to find any violations of the Act. Maybe it makes sense to hire an ADA expert to give the location a top to bottom review. If there is a violation, you’ll eventually have to fix it anyway. Better now, before being sued, then after.

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