With more than a dozen lawsuits filed against Kings County businesses, local leaders are making a big push to educate local business owners about the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Hanford hosted an ADA workshop at the Civic Auditorium on Wednesday to connect small business owners with Certified Access Specialist (CASp) inspectors, attorneys, financial institutions and other services to help them avoid costly lawsuits.
About 200 business owners and concerned citizens attended.
Councilman Justin Mendes, who worked with the Hanford Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Hanford to organize the event, said the attendance exceeded initial expectations.
A few weeks ago, Mendes said, he had received about 20 RSVPs. That number more than doubled this week. All told, there were 160 names on the sign-in sheet at Wednesday’s workshop.
“The biggest thing is to be proactive with your business and get compliant with ADA laws,” Mendes said.
The Lemoore Chamber of Commerce began distributing information to its members on Thursday morning about CASp inspectors who work in Kings County. Lemoore chamber CEO Jenny MacMurdo said she was meeting with City Manager Andi Welsh on Thursday to brainstorm other ideas to help businesses avoid lawsuits.
MacMurdo said a number of Lemoore business owners attended the event in Hanford.
“We tried to get the word out to Lemoore business owners to go to the Hanford [workshop],” MacMurdo said. “If they could get the information there, there’s no reason for us to duplicate it here.”
At least 15 ADA lawsuits have been filed in Kings County since March, with all but one filed by Jose Escobedo. The cases claim Escobedo needs a cane or walker for mobility, suffers from arthritis and is missing a digit on his dominant hand.
Escobedo is being represented by the San Jose-based Moore Law Firm.
Thirteen of those cases involve Hanford businesses, including the Star Restaurant, La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant and Hanford Chinese Kitchen.
Since The Sentinel first reported on the lawsuits on July 18, MacMurdo said she has received several calls from concerned business owners. To date, no businesses in the city of Lemoore have been served with an ADA lawsuit.
Escobedo filed a lawsuit against the Kwik Break Deli Mart at Highway 41 and Grangeville Boulevard, just north of Lemoore, on July 29.
“We’re just trying to take a proactive stance,” MacMurdo said.
Mendes said he believes that all cities should offer an ADA workshop on an annual basis. He said Hanford city offices may also begin distributing ADA compliance information when someone obtains a business license.
Meanwhile, there are several pieces of national legislation aimed at amending ADA laws to protect businesses against unexpected lawsuits.
“The only way we’re going to get that done is if we’re one group, one voice,” Mendes said.