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.

Zwilling said Ashley doesn't want a big payout from his lawsuits. Rather, he wants the restaurants to make the restrooms and the parking lots ADA-compliant.

"Our goal is not to come in there with an architect and tell them they've got to move walls or do anything major," Zwilling said. "The suit is just designed to get their attention. It's stuff that should have been done 14, 15 years ago."

One of the restaurants Ashley sued is Lazzari Italian Oven in Jonesboro. Ashley said the parking spaces designated as accessible contained access aisles that were too narrow. And the restroom doors are too narrow for a wheelchair, the suit claims.

Ashley wants Lazzari's owner to make the place ADA-compliant and award reasonable attorney's fees and court and other costs related to the suit.

John Flynn of Cabot, an attorney representing Lazzari Italian Oven, called Zwilling "a drive-by ADA attorney," who sues businesses on ADA technicalities as a way to collect attorney's fees and money for his clients.

"We believe we are fully in compliance, and furthermore, our restaurant was constructed prior to [the] ADA enforcement," Flynn said. "We don't believe there's anything out of compliance in our restaurant."

Zwilling said he isn't suing for a payout and is trying to keep the fees as low as possible. His cases "aren't about the fees. They're about getting the barriers removed," he said.

'Make the Changes'

In Arkansas, plaintiffs aren't entitled to damages for ADA access lawsuits; they are in California, where 14,000-ADA related lawsuits have been filed in recent years.

An attorney who reviewed Ashley's four cases for Arkansas Business said the lawsuits don't appear to be the work of a "drive-by" lawyer.

"Most of the items that I saw in these lawsuits struck me as the sort of thing that if [Ashley] has those needs, they do not seem like unreasonable claims," said David Peters, CEO and general counsel for Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuses. "I did not see any specific claims that seemed so outrageous or so inappropriate."

Peters said if he represented the restaurants, the first thing he would do is stop the meter running on the legal fees by announcing that the changes would be made.



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