Preventing Drive-By Lawsuits
How to Ensure ADA Compliance
Most Property managers should be familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the ADA, properties have to follow certain guidelines and rules to make access easier for people who are disabled. These include parking spots and signs indicating ramp access. A majority of properties comply with the laws perfectly, but in case of any oversight, a property can be at risk of what is being referred to as a ‘drive-by lawsuit. To put it simply, a drive-by lawsuit is where someone drives by an establishment and notices some issue which can be construed as non-compliance.
For example, if the dimensions of a parking space are not correct, or the ramp is not designed perfectly, property owners can face potential lawsuits. This is particularly important for property owners to understand, as they can be served a lawsuit without any prior warning. While it is important to comply with the ADA, a growing number of lawyers are filing drive-by lawsuits by the dozens. In some cases, the owner of a property has no idea that their property is not complying with the law fully. This has led to an alarming situation for property owners.
As mentioned above, properties are required by law to comply with the laws laid down under the ADA. However, failure to comply does not mean being taken to court. A better process would be informing the property owner so that he/she can make the necessary changes. What is happening now is that a lawyer or activist spots an issue and files a lawsuit. This has led to a situation where multiple plaintiffs file a case against the same property. Furthermore, these cases are proving lucrative for attorneys, who won’t otherwise get paid for handling the matter for a disabled individual.
Of course, not all cases are ‘drive-by lawsuits’ and some of them raise genuine concerns. However, for the owner of the property, dealing with the matter means hiring an attorney, which can prove expensive. Even if the matter can be resolved inexpensively, going to court means more money has to be spent. Moreover, currently, the law isn’t stringent in terms of filing a claim. The plaintiff only need prove that he/she plans to return to the property after the matter is resolved and the lawsuit will probably be accepted by the court.
The best approach is to be proactive. Don’t wait for someone to spot a violation, because by then, the ship has sailed. You will end up paying more money than you would have to if you had taken the necessary action early on. What you can do instead is contact a professional property management company to come in and assess your property for ADA compliance. You have to take this matter seriously or you are risking being hit with a drive-by lawsuit. The expert will provide suggestions and recommendations for improvement. In most cases, you can solve the problem without much hassle.
However, ignoring the ADA guidelines or delaying the action can prove risky for you. It is only a matter of time before word will get out about your lawsuit and it is possible that more people jump on the bandwagon and sue you. Even if you manage to secure an out of court settlement on the matter, it still would mean paying thousands of dollars in attorney fees. The longer the matter drags on, the more the cost will be for you. Therefore, the sensible option is to take action right away. It is quite possible that your property already complies with ADA guidelines and you don’t have to do anything.
Investing in an audit will cost you significantly less than dealing with the problem after it arises. A lawsuit can harm the reputation of your organization and you might also be the target of protests from disability rights groups. That is something you cannot afford, as the long-term damage will affect the bottom-line of your business. There is no way to determine how much a drive-by lawsuit can cost you, but it won’t be cheap, that’s for sure.
There is a definite loophole in the law which allows lawyers and disabled individuals to approach the court with drive-by lawsuits. Given the growing rate of acceptance for these cases, it is up to property managers to take proactive measures to ensure they don’t face a similar fate. One can only hope that the law is updated to prevent abuse.