California ADA Lawsuit Reform

January 15, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza


The need to reduce frivolous litigation regarding alleged disability access violations at businesses had been a growing problem in California for years. Approximately 40% of all Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits in the nation are filed in California, while only 12% of the disabled population resides in the stat

Unfortunately it appears that a small group of plaintiff’s attorneys took advantage of the unique combination of California law with the federal ADA that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government services, commercial facilities, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.

This group of attorneys would look for disabled people as plaintiffs, send them to retailers and other public businesses, and see if they would find a violation of the accessibility requirements of the ADA. Lawsuits were filed for infractions as minor as a mirror being hung ½ an inch too high.

The typical demand was $4,000 (the minimum fine) plus an additional demand for attorneys’ fees ranging from $2,000 to $4,000. Many business owners would capitulate to the demands as it could be cheaper to pay the demands than to engage in litigation.

Senate Bill 1186, signed by Governor Brown on September 19, 2012, addressed some of the concerns and is designed to curb certain frivolous lawsuits. Features of this bill include:

  • Businesses have 60 days to fix an ADA violation, after receiving notice of the violation, if their facility was completed after January 1, 2008.  Businesses that don’t qualify for this benefit may qualify if they have obtained an inspection report from a Certified Access Specialist (CASp).


  • Statutory damages may be reduced from $4,000 to $1,000 when the violation is corrected.


  • Letters can still be sent to business owners alerting them of a violation or infraction, but “demands for money” letters from attorneys are now banned. Attorneys sending infraction letters are required to also send a copy of the letter to the California State Bar for review of compliance with the law.


  • Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees that have not had a CASp inspection will have 30 days to fix a violation, and can have their statutory damages reduced from $4,000 to $2,000.



Sources: California Business Properties AssociationWhite & Bright, LLP; Kring & Chung



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