Governor Brown Approves Law Reforming Disability Access Lawsuits


Gov. Brown Approves Law Reforming Disability Access Lawsuits

On September 19, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 1186, which aims to rein in the abusive tactics employed by some disability rights lawyers while increasing accessibility for disabled individuals within California.  The new law has already gone into effect. 

SB 1186 helps businesses in several ways.  First, the law bans pre-litigation “demand letters” which seek a specified amount of money damages and attorney’s fees in exchange for not filing a lawsuit.  It was often the case that businesses opted to pay the settlement demand because it was less costly than removing the barrier to access or interrupting business operations so that a remodel could take place.  SB 1186 also requires plaintiffs’ attorneys to send a notice letter listing any alleged construction deficiencies to the non-complying business 30 days before filing a lawsuit.  In addition, they must send a copy of their notice letters to the State Bar. 

The new law also prevents “stacking” of claims, when future plaintiffs purposefully visit the same location multiple times so that they can file multiple claims for the same barrier to access.  SB 1186 requires plaintiffs who engage in this unscrupulous practice to explain their need to repeatedly visit a location with a known barrier to access. 

Finally, SB 1186 reduces the statutory damages to $1,000 per violation for businesses that had their properties inspected by a certified access specialist or had construction approved by local building officials, so long as fixes to bring the property into compliance are made within a certain number of days. 

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