Central Florida businesses being sued by a Daytona Beach attorney for potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act are awaiting a federal ruling to determine whether they’ll have to pay settlements in the form of attorney fees. The law forbids plaintiffs from receiving money for “relief” regardless of a court’s decision.
The alleged violations are often quick fixes, but they can cost businesses thousands in legal fees and settlement costs that could be passed on to customers.
More than three dozen Central Florida businesses have recently been hit with almost identical lawsuits filed by attorney Joe Quick. Quick represents the same four clients, often referred to as “testers” by some critics, in each lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Last legislative session, State Rep. Tom Leek introduced and passed legislation that allows business owners to hire ADA experts to inspect their businesses. Businesses are able to apply for a grace period to fix violations, but so far, only two businesses in the state have done so. Click here for more information on the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s ADA Title III Registry.
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As reported in the Miami Herald, Florida lawmakers have implemented a new law aimed at ADA public accommodation compliance lawsuits often pressuring small businesses and property owners into quick settlements in order to avoid lengthy and costly court battles. In an analysis published in March by The News-Press (Fort Myers), of all the lawsuits filed under the ADA’s public accommodations law in Florida during the past five years, more than half of the approximately 6,000 suits were filed by just 12 plaintiffs. In addition, many of the plaintiffs are represented by the same law firms. The bill, receiving unanimous approval in both the Florida House and Senate during the 2017 legislative session, was recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott and is now in effect.
The new statute enables businesses and property owners to take substantive, preventative measures to help insulate themselves from the most frivolous claims. Under the law, a business or property owner may retain a qualified expert to conduct an inspection of their property to ensure compliance with building codes satisfying the ADA’s requirements. If the property is found to be in compliance with the ADA, the expert may issue a certificate of conformity that includes the date of inspection, proof of the expert’s qualifications, and a statement confirming that the property is in conformity. For properties that are not found to be in compliance, the owner may develop and submit a remediation plan approved by a qualified expert indicating that the property will be brought into conformity within a specified time period.
The compliance certifications or remediation plans may be filed with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which will now maintain a publicly accessible website to serve as a registry for all of the certifications and remediation plans that it receives. Importantly, a remediation plan in existence before an ADA lawsuit is filed could serve to moot such a lawsuit.
The new law does not prohibit disabled plaintiffs from filing ADA public accommodations lawsuits, nor does it prohibit plaintiffs’ attorneys from seeking fees. It does, however, provide Florida businesses and property owners with a means to potentially defeat or limit frivolous ADA barrier-to-access lawsuits and greatly minimize their exposure to related attorney fees and costs.
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