Deaf in California? Don’t Be a Serial ADA Litigant

8 01 2009

By Jamie Berke,

Monday January 5, 2009
The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about a disabled man who has made a career out of suing small businesses for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At this time, his sole income (and it is substantial income) is through these lawsuits. Why is he able to do this? According to the L.A. Times, “California is one of the few states to put teeth into the disabilities law by mandating penalties from businesses or government entities whose premises impede the disabled.”What does this mean for deaf people? The quoted language implies that the penalties apply only in the case of physical barriers. Without seeing the actual legislation or regulations mandating the penalities, I do not know if that applies in the case of a deaf person suing for say, lack of interpreters or captions, or if it is limited for example to cases where someone in a wheelchair can not access a restaurant. In addition, there is no mention of deaf people anywhere in this article.

If it does entitle deaf people in California to sue and get damages, should they? After reading this article and seeing how people object to the “serial litigation” going on by disabled people in California, I say no. Why do I say no? I say no because of the need to consider the image of the entire deaf and hard of hearing community.

Instead, I suggest deaf Californians who want to sue small businesses for ADA non-compliance, go ahead and sue, but instead of demanding damages like the serial litigants mentioned in this article, simply sue for compliance. Don’t demand damages unless the businesses sued refuse to comply. Give them a fair chance to comply first.