A flurry of American Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits have been filed in federal court in Nashville since the 2010 ADA rules took effect March 15, 2012. More than 40 of these lawsuits have been filed by enterprising lawyers because it is often easy to show a violation. So, what is the ADA Public Accommodation Law, and what are the challenges facing business and property owners?
My partner, Clark Spoden,wrote a post for the Nashville Biz Blog about these lawsuits:
The ADA law provides disabled persons the right to equal access to all private businesses that are open to the public. The purpose was "to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities." "Discrimination" under the ADA includes subtle forms of discrimination, such as difficult-to-navigate restrooms and hard-to-open doors that interfere with disabled individuals’ "full and equal enjoyment" of places of public accommodation. This includes any business open to the public and commercial facilities.
Many businesses and property owners are under the false impression that they are exempt or "grandfathered" because of the age of their building. All places of public accommodation are subject to the ADA, but the age of the facility does determine the level of required compliance. ADA requirements include: removal of architectural and structural communication barriers in existing facilities; design and construction of new facilities; alteration of existing facilities; and furnishing auxiliary aids to ensure effective communication.
Barrier removal measures include installing ramps, curb cuts at sidewalks and entrances, rearranging tables and chairs and vending machines, widening doorways, installing grab bars in restroom stalls and adding raised letters or Braille to elevator control buttons.
Recent lawsuits in Middle Tennessee have focused on shopping centers and restaurants, hotels and ATMs at financial institutions. Most of the shopping center and restaurant cases were against facilities built prior to July 1992 and were covered by the ADA’s "readily achievable" standard defined as improvements "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." Most of the violations were found in restrooms and parking lots.
A group of cases were filed against financial institutions because the voice guidance features at their ATMs failed. These "auxiliary aids" in the ATMs are voice-guidance software-driven technology that is susceptible to periodic failure. These failures appear to be fairly common and have helped fuel lawsuits in Nashville.
Next week, on November 14, 2013, Clark and a few colleagues will be giving a free seminar on the 2010 ADA Rules and what businesses and property owners can do to protect and defend against a lawsuit. The seminar is from 4:30-6:30 p.m., at Stites & Harbison, 401 Commerce St., Suite 800, Nashville. RSVP here.