The term “drive-by” lawsuit comes from the practice of seeking out and alleging minor ADA violations in local businesses. These can range from the maximum thickness of carpeting to the angle at which water comes out of a drinking fountain. Lawyers filing these claims generally rely on a business owner’s reluctance to invest the time and money necessary to fight them, even if the claim is baseless to begin with. Plaintiffs will typically issue a demand letter or otherwise threaten property owners with a lawsuit unless they pay a settlement. A 2016 60 Minutes report even uncovered evidence of individuals using aerial imagery from Google Maps to spot alleged violations, without ever visiting the actual property itself.
These lawsuits are not in keeping with the spirit or the letter of the ADA. Even more pernicious is the fact that they serve only to enrich the attorneys involved, rather than remedy the situation. Unfortunately, the scheme has proven successful, and the number of Title III ADA lawsuits – those dealing with public accommodations – has skyrocketed over the past 5 years, at the expense of local businesses and property owners.
Since its inception more than 25 years ago, the ADA has generally been effective in providing access for people with disabilities. However, a targeted fix is needed to stem the flow of “drive-by” lawsuits that prioritize monetary judgements over actual fixes to the problems themselves.
NAIOP believes in commonsense enforcement of the ADA that strengthens the original intent of the law while focusing private property owner resources on fixing violations, rather than paying lawyers’ fees for small technical violations. H.R. 620 takes a measured approach by allowing property owners to fix any alleged violations, while also keeping in place penalties for businesses which continue to violate ADA statutes. The bill would give property owners a reasonable but finite amount of time to remedy any alleged ADA infractions.
H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act, passed the House of Representatives in 2017 but was not taken up by the Senate. NAIOP is working with a broad coalition of organizations and lawmakers to reintroduce legislation for the 116th session of Congress.