By Alene Tchekmedyian, Glendale News-Press
During a workshop on Tuesday, roughly 20 people learned how businesses can avoid lawsuits that claim they violated accessibility laws for people with disabilities.
Hosted by the Valley Economic Alliance and California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, the workshop was part of a roughly yearlong effort to get businesses and restaurants compliant with accessibility laws as Glendale and surrounding cities gear up to host athletes participating in the Special Olympics World Summer Games, said Michael Hadley of the Valley Economic Alliance.
“We’re trying to make the San Fernando Valley accessible to all persons no matter what level of ability,” Hadley said, adding that the organization has held several similar workshops already, but this was the first in Glendale.
“We have been connecting businesses to resources they need to become accessible,” Hadley added.
The workshop’s message to business owners was this — get the violations fixed before you get slapped with a surprise lawsuit.
With the Americans with Disabilities Act having been signed into law in 1990, the compliance deadline was in January 1992. Several updates and revisions have been made in recent years.
“There’s really no advantage to waiting,” said David Warren Peters, an attorney with the California Justice Alliance who made a presentation at the workshop. “Sometimes it’s just as simple as a little bit of blue paint and a sign.”
Parking-lot violations are among the more common sources of claims, yet one of the easiest to fix, Peters said. He encouraged business owners to arrange through their attorneys for a certified access specialist to inspect their property for compliance.
Businesses, he said, may even be eligible for tax credits or deductions for some improvements.
Several Glendale business owners in recent months have been hit with lawsuits claiming civil-rights violations.
Among them was Urik Ghazalian, who was surprised when his 11-year-old, family-owned coffee shop, Urartu Coffee, was served with a lawsuit in January.
The plaintiff, who, according to the complaint is wheelchair-bound, cited accessibility problems with the coffee shop’s front entrance, customer counter, bathroom and path of travel, according to the complaint.
According to court records, the plaintiff, David Singletary, has filed more than 150 similar lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court since 2008.
Through an email statement, the office of Singletary’s attorney, David Wakefield, declined to comment on pending litigation or settlements, but stated that the purpose of the litigation was to enforce the laws so government officials don’t have to — thus saving taxpayer money.
But Ghazalian felt the lawsuit was abusive.
“He’s destroying the system — he’s not trying to protect the ADA code, he’s trying to make a profit,” Ghazalian said.
Maryann Marino, of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, shared a similar sentiment. She has been pushing legislators to remove the financial incentive to sue for noncompliance in California, as state law says that plaintiffs can claim up to $4,000 in damages per violation — which could be anything from a missing parking lot sign to a bathroom mirror being hung too high.
“We believe it would be real reform, and the problem would go away,” she said.