While most employers are familiar with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which prohibits discrimination in employment against those with disabilities, many are less familiar with Title II of the ADA which requires that places of public accommodation and commercial facilities be designed, constructed or altered so that they are accessible to the disabled.

As the New York Times recently reported, a small group of attorneys has discovered a clever way to manipulate the requirements of the ADA for their own gain  — instead of waiting for a disabled person to come to them with a complaint regarding an establishment’s accessibility for the disabled, these attorneys are proactively looking for businesses that are not in compliance with the law and then recruiting disabled persons to serve as plaintiffs.   The attorneys are typically targeting small businesses, such as delis, flower shops and liquor stores, and they allege violations ranging from no ramps to shelves that are too high.

Once finding a plaintiff, the attorney then files suit against the establishment.  While the plaintiffs themselves collect only about $500 per suit, the lawyers makes several thousand dollars off of each lawsuit.   Further, the same plaintiff can, and is being used, several times by the same attorney to file suits against different businesses.  In one glaring example, a Florida attorney filed
143 lawsuits using the same plaintiff, including 9 lawsuits in one day.

This practice has sparked a debate regarding the fairness of such lawsuits, with one side arguing that the targeted businesses are non-compliant with the ADA so the suits are justified, and the other side arguing that this is just a new version of ambulance chasing.  The trend in these types of lawsuits is not unique to New York, as the Times reports:

 “In the last year, 3,000 similar suits, including more than 300 in New York, were brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, more than double the number five years ago.”

There is little an employer can do to fend off these types of lawsuits, except make sure that their facilities are compliant with the ADA’s regulations.