Utah lawmaker aims to stop "drive-by" ADA lawsuits

Disables persons advocate says piles of lawsuits show ADA working as designed (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Multiple Sclerosis has taken Kraig McGee's ability to walk. He says he's glad there is a federal law that requires businesses to make accommodations for people in wheelchairs, like him.

But McGee says he is concerned with what he sees as an abuse of the law. Thousands of businesses around the country, including his family’s in American Fork, are being slapped with lawsuits over arguably small infractions of the American’s with Disabilities Act.

Instead of paying the huge court costs, businesses like McGee’s Stamp and Trophy are told they can pay to make the complaint go away - but only by acting quickly.

Business owners Get Gephardt spoke with last May claim they had no idea they weren't in compliance until smacked with a demand letter or lawsuit, and then they felt strong armed into paying.

Now, Utah Rep. Norm Thurston wants to make it harder for what he calls, "Drive-by lawsuits."

"We think congress never intended for people to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just by driving up and down streets and dropping off letters in people's mailboxes,” he said.

Thurston is sponsoring The Bad Faith Demand Letters Concerning Americans with Disabilities Act. The bill is aimed at making it illegal for a lawyer to strong arm a company into paying.

Outlawed would be saying the amount to settle "will increase" if the business tries to fight back or doesn't settle quickly.

The bill would also seek to make sure a disabled person actually had trouble at a business by requiring demand letters include, "the name of the person," "the time" a violation was witnessed and a detail description of the ADA "violation" at the business.

And, if a business gets a “bad-faith” letter anyway, the business could actually turn around and sue the person who sent it.

“To this point, I would have to say there are very, very small number of people who are opposed to making this sort of change,” Thurston said his bill’s chances.

There could be some legal challenges to the bill. The American's with Disabilities Act is a federal law, and a state law isn’t allowed to supersede a federal law.

MORE: Disabled persons advocate says piles of lawsuits show ADA working as designed

Thurston says he thinks he's structured the bill in a way that is legal because it wouldn't stop a disabled person from being able to sue over ADA violations.

Lawmakers in Congress are also considering amending the ADA to require businesses be notified of violations, and given a chance to address them, before a lawsuit can be filed.

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