Thursday, September 20, 2012
Brown Signs Bill Targeting Disability Access Lawsuits
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday signed legislation that supporters say will help stop abusive disability access lawsuits.
SB 1186, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, takes effect immediately as an urgency measure. Dutton is a candidate for Congress in the November election.
The legislation prohibits the attorney for a disabled person with a “construction-related disability access claim” from demanding payment of money to settle the claim. The attorney would be required instead to demand correction of the violation, and to provide copies of the demand to the State Bar and the California Commission on Disability Access.
The demand letter would still be permitted to advise the alleged violator that it “may be civilly liable for actual or statutory damages.”
The new law also provides that where a plaintiff “stacks” multiple claims for statutory damages—set by prior law at up to three times actual damages, but not less than $1,000 or $4,000, depending on the type of violation—the court may consider the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct in determining the amount. The minimum statutory damage award is also reduced in cases where violations are deemed unintentional and are promptly corrected following demand.
The law also establishes new rules with regard to inspection of commercial properties in order to ensure compliance with disability access rules, grants new authority to the California Commission on Disability Access, and authorizes a new $1 fee to be added to the cost of a business license in order to pay for inspections.
Steinberg said on his website that the legislation was a common-sense compromise that will provide “incentives to fix the violations and enhance accessibility,” fixing an environment in which “it was often cheaper and quicker for business owners to settle out of court rather than remove those obstacles.”
Statements praising the governor for signing the bill were also issued by California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, which said it “should provide some relief to small business owners who are making good faith efforts to comply and it should help reign in unscrupulous plaintiffs’ lawyers who have been exploiting the Americans with Disabilities Act for financial gain,” and from the Civil Justice Association of California.
The bill had broad support from business groups, as well as from the California Council of the Blind, California Building Officials, and the Regional Council of Rural Counties. It was opposed by the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, Disability Rights California, and other disability advocates.
The bill passed the state Senate by a vote of 34-3. It passed the Assembly, where Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, was listed as principal coauthor, by a vote of 77-0.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company