Businesses Facing ADA Suits

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 17, 2008 12:00 am  

Jimmy Ashley has filed federal lawsuits against four Jonesboro restaurants and accused them of not meeting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Jimmy Ashley has learned to live with his disability.

The 55-year-old Jonesboro man became a paraplegic after being shot while on duty as a Mississippi County sheriff's deputy in 1980.

Ashley, though, has trouble maneuvering his wheelchair into some Jonesboro businesses.

"That's what I face every day," he said. "It's wrong and I'm tired of it."

In February, Ashley filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Jonesboro against four restaurants he said violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing access to restrooms or other sections of the restaurants.

While some states have seen an explosion of ADA lawsuits against businesses, Arkansas hasn't. Yet.

Attorney Edward Zwilling of Birmingham, Ala., who is handling Ashley's cases, said he is talking with clients in central Arkansas and may file more lawsuits. But he declined to comment further on his plans.

Businesses that don't meet ADA compliance could face lawsuits or fines from the Department of Justice; the fines are $55,000 for the first offense and $110,000 for any subsequent violations. 

Settling an ADA lawsuit could cost a business anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 or more, according to Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuse APC of San Diego. The price for defending the case at trial could run between $100,000 and $500,000.

Several businesses in Arkansas currently don't meet ADA access requirements, said Jan Baker, an attorney for the Disability Rights Center Inc. in Little Rock.

The "compliance with the ADA in Arkansas remains dismal," Baker said. "We could file suit every day here in our office against some business that we've received a complaint on. ... And they will lose in court."

But she said the Disability Rights Center doesn't like to do that, though it has on three occasions since 2002. Baker's goal is to inform the business owner about the alterations that need to be made to become ADA-compliant.



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