“Don’t Steal. The Government Hates Competition.” Possibly my favorite bumper sticker of all time.
Santa Monica is currently experiencing a crime wave of robberies. The way the thieves are operating is to work in a team of three. They break in to a local business through the front glass door, then find their loot, usually cash drawers or in the case of Dagwood’s Pizza on Wilshire, the entire safe.
Most stores have video surveillance these days so there is a video recording of the break ins. Because of this the Santa Monica Triple Threat (as I have dubbed them!) are wearing gray hoodies and sunglasses to hide their faces, Adidas track pants, and gloves. So far I have received reports of four local businesses being plundered in this way.
This is robbery and if you’d like to witness it, you can watch it since Dagwoods posted the break-in video on their Instagram account @DagwoodsPizza. It’s pretty brazen and rather shocking in our little burg to have so bold a crime wave.
There’s another type of crime wave though that is a plague upon our local businesses, and that is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) non-compliance private action. The ADA was originally designed to foster increased access for those who are navigating life with additional challenges. Its original purpose was, and remains, a good and valid one, to help people be able to access services and companies.
Like all good intentions though, there is a dark side. The ADA has punishments for those who do not comply with the accessibility rules and they’re considered to be strict liability – meaning there are no defenses really to your violation of the law. The one that most people are familiar with is statutory rape of a person under age 18 – unless you fall into a very small window of similar age, you’re a rapist and it doesn’t matter what the other person told you, misrepresented themselves as, or promised you – you’re guilty.
The ADA violations are very similar to that, and as a consequence there has grown a cottage industry of individuals who are disabled who join forces with a lawyer to drum up violations against companies that have enough resources to pay out the “violations” and the attorney’s fees. Essentially it’s a way for someone who is disabled to provide for themselves if they can find a lawyer and strike a working relationship that allows them to become “professional plaintiffs”. (I’d be lying if I didn’t have the passing thought about finding someone…)
These cases are generally filed and then served on the unsuspecting company, who then must either negotiate a settlement in the $5,000 -$25,000 range depending on the severity of the infraction, or hire a lawyer to defend against the lawsuit ( at a $5,000 – 10,000 retainer) and then still have to pay for the infractions.
The big growth in this “ADA violation industry” is happening with websites that are non-ADA compliant. Essentially a legally blind person can now sue anyone who has a website that is not certified as compliant for violating their rights. It should prove to be a boon for many a disabled person.
In my 20 years as a lawyer I have had a few of these cases cross my desk, and just recently another of my business clients was hit with one. The violation is that the markings for the handicap parking have faded and are difficult to read. Mind you this did not prevent the plaintiff from actually entering the business, procuring their products, and then leave the business. It was just their handicap parking was “hard to read”.
We have some defenses in this case as the common area of the parking lot is supposed to be maintained by the landlord so there’s an argument that my client is not responsible for that, but it will still cost them a few thousand dollars for me to research, argue and eventually find a settlement/resolution to this case.
That’s legal extortion. What these disability plaintiffs are doing is completely legal, and I suppose there is an argument to be made that they are doing the enforcement that the government doesn’t have the time or resources for, so making the businesses pay is a fair apportionment of the costs. But let me tell you the law needs some refining, because there is a great amount of abuse in the system. It’s one thing for a donut shop to not have a handicap accessible bathroom, it’s another for the striping on a parking lot to be faded. Those violations that actually prevent access should be enforced, but a measure of sanity needs to be instilled as well.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra