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.

Peters suggests hiring a highly qualified ADA access inspector to examine the businesses and make changes based on those assessments.

"Don't just change what the plaintiff needs," he said. "Make the changes that you should have made in '92."

And if the business owner can't make all the alterations immediately, there's a way of spreading them out over time, Peters said.

"It doesn't do anybody any good to keep the plaintiff's attorney on the clock," he said. "Let's get rid of that guy."

A Question of Ambiguity

The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was to provide clear and enforceable standards addressing discrimination against people with disabilities. The problem arises, however, in trying to figure out how much access to a commercial enterprise is required.

When a commercial building is renovated, it must meet the ADA requirement for a new building, which spells out how wide doorways have to be and the dimensions in the restrooms, said Diego Demaya, a legal specialist with the Disability Law Resource Project of Houston.

But if a section of a building is being renovated, then only that section has to be ADA compliant, not the whole building, Demaya said.

"Let's say they are renovating the entire dining hall, but they are not renovating the kitchen area," he said. ADA requirements "wouldn't require them to consider making the kitchen area accessible. It would only require them to make the dining hall accessible, which will be the main entrance, the parking lot and the bathrooms that attach to that area."

The rules for existing buildings are the source of much confusion.

"The law is ambiguous as to what is required," said Elizabeth Milito, senior executive counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business in Washington, D.C.

Milito said business owners want to comply with ADA requirements but are uncertain about what exactly needs to be done.



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