ADA Supporters Should Be Grateful to Ramp Chasers

A surprisingly ambivalent story in today's New York Times describes a legal specialty spawned by the Americans With Disabilities Act: Lawyers look for building features that fall short of the ADA's requirements for places of "public accommodation" such as stores and restaurants, "aggressively recruit plaintiffs from advocacy groups for people with disabilities," and sue the businesses on their behalf, demanding legal fees as well as structural modifications. The business owners settle, agreeing to pay thousands of dollars in fees on top of whatever it costs to fix faulty features such as excessively steep ramps, excessively narrow aisles, and excessively high shelves. The lawyers pocket something like $6,000 per case (according to a defense attorney quoted by the Times), while the plaintiffs, who may never actually patronize the newly compliant businesses, "typically collect $500 for each suit."

The same plaintiff "can be used several times over"; the Times cites Todd Kreisler, a Manhattanite in a wheelchair who "sued 19 businesses over 16 months." In each case he was represented by Ben-Zion Bradley Weitz, who honed his ADA skills in Florida before joining "a small cadre of lawyers" who are "using New York City’s age and architectural quirkiness as the foundation for a flood of lawsuits." The Times estimates that Weitz has raked in "more than $600,000 for the 106 cases he has closed in New York," which is nothing to sneeze at, although it pales beside what big-time litigators can earn from a single class action. The Times nevertheless seems perturbed by these entrepreneurial enforcers. Under the headline "Disabilities Act Prompts Flood of Suits Some Cite as Unfair," it reports that "the practice has set off a debate about whether the lawsuits are a laudable effort, because they force businesses to make physical improvements to comply with the disabilities act, or simply a form of ambulance-chasing, with no one actually having been injured."

Can't they be both? If you accept the ADA's premise, which is that the government should force business owners to bear the cost of making the world more navigable for disabled people, you should be grateful to lawyers like Weitz for helping enforce that rule. More than two decades after the law was passed, Weitz is rooting out violators and making them comply, all at no cost to taxpayers. Critics complain that he and his colleagues sue right away, instead of notifying noncompliant businesses and giving them a chance to address their shortcomings. "Former Representative Mark Foley of Florida regularly introduced legislation to amend the Americans With Disabilities Act to require that business owners receive 90 days notice before being sued," the Times notes, and "similar legislation is pending now." That sort of reform might seem only fair, but it would undermine lawyers' incentive to enforce the law. If you know that your efforts will be rewarded with nothing more than guard rails, lower shelves, or new door handles, why bother? “As a private attorney," one of Weitz's competitors tells the Times, "every lawsuit that I file is to make money, because that's how I make a living. And in that regard, I’m no different than any other private attorney.”

More on the ADA here.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • John Thacker||

    Presumably the New York Times prefers to assume that when a regulation or law is passed, that it is immediately implemented with no downsides, cost, or tradeoffs.

  • Sigivald||

    "More than two decades after the law was passed, Weitz is rooting out violators and making them comply, all at no cost to taxpayers"

    But at increased cost to actual customers and with huge dead-weight costs.

    There are really two (or three) questions:

    1) Is this the (Federal) government's business?

    2) Is it an efficient way of achieving the goal, if #1 is "Yes"?

    Relatedly,

    3) Is there a better way of achieving that same goal, if #1 is Yes, regardless of #2's answer?

    (I'm not at all sure about #1 for reasons of lack of an enumerated power to support it, though I think it might well be a decent thing for State governments to mandate.

    Ideally only on new construction and up to a specific, static standard.

    [Or one that changes slowly and isn't applied retroactively very much.]

    Otherwise the compliance costs are almost certain to far outweigh any benefits.)

  • ||

    I think any level of government building should be accessible to all citizens. That doesn't mean they should be shoving it down private businesses throats.

  • johnl||

    And there are lots of government buildings in NYC that aren't accessible to all citizens, but people know better than to sue.

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    The a law is a legitimate government function (ADA is the law, so I'll have to assume it's legitimate), then enforcing that law is also a legitimate duty. If the government can't afford to pay for enforcement, then the law should be repealed, or at least not enforced. Allowing Pay-As-You-Enforce breeds corruption.

    I think I've heard about that happening once or twice before before.

  • robc||

    That sort of reform might seem only fair, but it would undermine lawyers' incentive to enforce the law.

    Why should lawyers have an incentive to enforce the law?

    They work at behest of the plaintiffs, which this is handling backwards. If the plaintiff finds an ADA violation, informs the business, it is fixed, then problem solved.

    Even if you support the ADA (which I dont), having lawyers hunt for violations is a bad idea.

    If an organization (which could include lawyers) wanted to hunt for violations in order to help the disabled, then more power to them. But the lawsuits are unnecessary if the problem is fixed.

  • Mo||

    ^This.

    The law should be enforced by patrons, not lawyers on a treasure hunt.

  • Evil Otto||

    But how do you enforce this? Reclassify beating a store manager with your cane as justifiable homicide?

    You're going to have to involve lawyers if enforcement is in civil court, or govt bureaucrats if it's done in a regulatory fashion. And we know the second idea is going to be pretty rough too.

  • ||

    "But how do yo enforce this?"

    Uh, a patron of a business talks to the business owner. If the owner blows him off, said patron hires a lawyer to begin the process. Lawyers will still get involved if the establishment owner doesn't comply, said owner gets a TWO chances to correct the issue, and unnecessary suits are avoided, all without the ambulance-chasing aspect.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    That sort of reform might seem only fair, but it would undermine lawyers' incentive to enforce the law.

    A standard notice letter that affected people could use to put the business on notice would accomplish the same thing without unduly enriching the lawyers, wouldn't it?

  • ||

    But, but then lawyers would only try to bring suit when a patron of the establishment WANTED them to.... OH.

  • fish||

    Even if you support the ADA (which I dont), having lawyers hunt for violations is a bad idea.

    Even if you support the ADA (which I dont), having hunting lawyers hunt for violations is a bad good idea.

  • Paul.||

    Can't they be both? If you accept the ADA's premise, which is that the government should force business owners to bear the cost of making the world more navigable for disabled people, you should be grateful to lawyers like Weitz for helping enforce that rule. More than two decades after the law was passed, Weitz is rooting out violators and making them comply, all at no cost to taxpayers.

    Negative, there's a completely lawsuit-free way to do this. If a wheelchair-bound person files an official complaint, the business has 90 days to fix the problem or pay a fine. No entepeneurial lawsuit ambulance chasing fucks necessary, the expensive taxpayer-funded courtroom time is saved and the enforcement is just as effective.

    These lawsuits thrive on perceived problems, not actual problems. There are wheelchair-bound people navigating their way all over this great land of ours, and never notice that that the passageways are 72.5" instead of 71.9".

  • Paul.||

    If you know that your efforts will be rewarded with nothing more than guard rails, lower shelves, or new door handles, why bother?

    Because guard rails, lower shelves and new door handles fixes the actual problem...

  • Evil Otto||

    On this issue I agree with Tom Servo.

    Can't find the old video summarizing all the spectacular falling deaths caused by poorly planned safety railings in Space Mutiny, the movie they were riffing, but that's the context.

  • JW||

    because they force businesses to make physical improvements to comply with the disabilities act, or simply a form of ambulance-chasing, with no one actually having been injured."

    IOW, the ADA is working exactly as designed.

  • ||

    Yes. Yes it is. Thank you, Bush I!

  • JW||

    There 's a reason the ADA was jokingly called the "Attorneys Full Employment Act" in 1990.

    Libertarian Cassandras. How the fuck do they work?

  • Pro Libertate||

    We're usually correct in our predictions, but no one listens to us. That's how we work, like Cassandra.

    Know what happened to Cassandra? She was abducted and raped, then, a little later, murdered by someone else altogether.

  • JW||

    abducted and raped, then, a little later, murdered by someone else altogether.

    It's tax day, isn't it?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yes, it's the day we all celebrate getting weary.

  • ||

    I thought we were getting woolly...because of the stress

  • Pro Libertate||

    Women don't get woolly! Well, maybe some do.

  • Pro Libertate||

    All laws have a secret phrase written on the back: "Legisperitis vincere."

  • Rich||

    the plaintiffs, who may never actually patronize the newly compliant businesses, "typically collect $500 for each suit."

    Sweet! Must one actually be disabled to get in on this action?

  • ||

    Aren't we all disabled in our own special way?

  • The Derider||

    Shoot yourself in the spine.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Weitz is rooting out violators and making them comply, all at no cost to taxpayers.

    Further degradation of property rights IS a cost to taxpayers.

  • ||

    That sort of reform might seem only fair, but it would undermine lawyers' incentive to enforce the law.

    It is amazing what some people will do with just a little bit of incentive. Hell, just look at what one Taliban Commander was willing to do for $100 bucks.

  • ||

    That's just priceless. In exchange I give you: Arizona Burglar Leaves Candy Wrapper Trail for Police

  • ||

    As a design professional, I would urge clients to be accessible to all potential patrons, even if the ADA were struck down tomorrow. Just like I try to convince them to use energy saving materials. But that's my job as a designer, not the government's.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Tell them that having to duck through doorways is no prize, either.

  • db||

    So here is how I will make a cool few million, just before drinking myself into a coma out of shame:

    Start a business "consulting" apparently noncompliant businesses on how to become ADA compliant. I'll even do the initial assessment for free. If the business chooses to hire me after my introductory letter, my fee will be a flat $5,000. If not, well I am sure Mr. Weitz, Esq., would appreciate the tip.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I'm still trying to figure out why portable wheelchair lifts at swimming pools, are inferior to permanently-mounted ones...

    Then again, I don't think like a bureaucrat, or a lawyer.

  • Evil Otto||

    Separate but equal? What a scalawag.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Damn skippy, separate but equal.

  • R C Dean||

    There was a time when this would have gotten him disbarred for, I believe, "barratry". Oh, how my profession has fallen.

  • Number 2||

    You fight these lawyers by standing up to them. I had a client sued by one of these lawyers about five years ago. I demanded to depose the lead plaintiff, a woman from Ohio who allegedly showed up one day in Central New Jersey and allegedly found all kinds of ADA violations in the local police department -- including, interestingly enough, "insufficient room" to maneuver wheelchairs by the men's room urinals. (She never explained what she was doing in the men's room). The court issued an order directing her to appear. One day letter I got a settlement offer: she'd drop her lawsuit if we promised not to seek sanctions for frivolous litigation.

    Based on what they did in New Jersey, they appear to sue governments and non-profits, who lack the resources and/or political will to fight.

  • Bard wilkin||

    I get pleasure the information you are providing in your website. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. thanks
    Ada Compliant Pool Lift

  • Bard wilkin||

    I get pleasure the information you are providing in your website. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. thanks
    Ada Compliant Pool Lift

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement