As Kings County businesses continue to get hit with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits, there are a few things businesses can do to protect themselves.
About 17 area businesses have had ADA lawsuits filed against them this year, mostly in Hanford. The most recent case was filed last month against Best Buy Market in Lemoore.
David Horn, a Fresno-based civil engineer and Certified Access Specialist (CASp), said about 1,500 ADA lawsuits have been filed in California this year. Horn has presented at ADA compliance workshops in Hanford, Lemoore and, just last week, in Avenal.
Horn said businesses can significantly reduce their risk of being sued for ADA violations by doing a little homework and addressing as many accessibility issues as they can. Those may include parking lots, restrooms, doors, routes in and out of the business and clear pathways inside the business.
“Most of these are not cost prohibitive,” Horn said. “They’re just complicated.”
Horn said ADA requirements prompt businesses to remove barriers that would preclude disabled people from having equal access. The law focuses on removing barriers that are “readily achievable.” That means business owners should correct small issues and obtain estimates from a contractor or an architect for large issues.
A CASp inspection offers business owners a confidential report about all of the issues they must address, as well as a barrier removal plan.
“Someone could still sue you, but your lawyer now has paperwork to show you did your homework,” Horn said.
Horn is also the cofounder of ADAHelper.com, a website designed to connect businesses with resources related to ADA compliance. The website includes a list of the top 10 ADA lawsuit “triggers.”
Based on his research of scores of lawsuits filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court of California, Horn said, the most common trigger is restroom accessories like toilet paper, soap and paper towel dispensers being placed too high off the ground.
“The key is you can’t put those more than 40 inches above the ground,” Horn said.
All of the 13 Hanford lawsuits included issues with restroom accessories. Many of them lacked grab bars, while others had door handles or sinks with handles that were difficult for the plaintiff to manage.
The most recent ADA lawsuit filed in Kings County against Best Buy Market in Lemoore focused exclusively on parking lot violations.
According to the Oct. 12 complaint, Kings County resident Rachel Lobato encountered the issues during an April 5 visit to the grocery store. Lobato, who reportedly depends on a cane, walker or wheelchair for mobility, located an accessible space “after some difficulty.”
The space lacked proper signage. From there, Lobato claims, she feared for her safety while negotiating the curb ramp.
Horn said there are numerous small violations that can present themselves in a parking lot. The Americans with Disabilities Act includes specific requirements for properly painting and labeling accessible parking.
The majority of the ADA lawsuits filed in Hanford have claimed the plaintiff couldn’t locate accessible parking or had difficulty finding it.
“If you don’t have the right stripes next to the stall, it’s not an ‘accessible’ stall,” Horn said.
Accessible stalls also must have signs posted 60 or 80 inches above the ground, depending where it’s posted. One out of every six ADA stalls must be van accessible.
Another common pitfall, Horn said, is a lack of accessible routes to the main entrance. Horn said this is one of the most common areas that implicate both the business owner and the landlord.
“That doesn’t take them out of a lawsuit,” Horn said of landlords. “They’re both equally responsible.”
Curb ramps leading up to a business can create similar problems. Horn said curb ramps that are too steep or jut out into the parking lot can be scary for someone in a wheelchair, who may have trouble going up and down a ramp.
Doors are another common issue. Entrances, restrooms and other doors accessible to customers must be ADA accessible. Round door knobs require a twisting motion to open. Seven of the Hanford lawsuits mentioned doors that were allegedly noncompliant.
“The rule of thumb is that if you can’t open your door with your fist, it’s wrong,” Horn said.
Even if a business owner starts making ADA improvements today, Horn said, it can take a year or more to complete some of the larger projects.
The first thing Horn recommends is for business owners address ADA signage for parking, restrooms and other applicable areas. Proper signs may deter lawsuits until all of the improvements have been completed.
“Get your signs done first,” Horn said. “You don’t stop there, you just start there.”