New York Sees Spike in Frivolous American With Disabilities Act Lawsuits, Report Claims
New York has seen a spike in frivolous lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a recently released report by a legal reform group says.
In the “Serial Plaintiffs: The Abuse of Title III” report, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York maintains that the law meant to protect individuals with disabilities is being exploited by lawyers on the search for settlements.
The number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in New York has increased each year, according to the report. In 2013, about 225 lawsuits were filed. In 2017, 1,023 ADA Title III lawsuits were filed in the state by more than 170 plaintiffs.
The federal American with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against and aims to provide them with equal opportunities, full societal participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency. ADA Title III calls for individuals with disabilities to not be discriminated against when it comes to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities or public accommodations.
“Lawyers are clearly driving this litigation. They are profiting from an important law that was enacted with admirable intentions. They sue schools, newspapers, and businesses of all sizes in the hopes of getting a quick settlement. They are not committed to removing barriers or guaranteeing access for all,” Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York said in a statement.
The report claims that problems exist with the current law since it attracts attorneys to collect fees and lawsuits to be brought with no notice of alleged violations. Other problems include the Department of Justice not clarifying the law and attorneys who seek settlements and not accessibility for their clients.
According to the report, “ADA lawsuits are on the rise in New York State as lawyers are recognizing that they can turn a profit with little effort.” In addition, the number of individuals living in New York and across the United States with disabilities is also on the rise, according to the report which also rails against “serial plaintiffs” — those who file multiple ADA lawsuits.
“The New York State Bar Association does not support or condone the bringing of any frivolous law suit, and our experience is that this occurs very infrequently,” Sharon Stern Gerstman, president of the New York State Bar Association, said in a statement to NBC New York, adding that “if a person or entity believes that a frivolous action has been brought, he or she may move for sanctions under New York State Civil Procedure Laws and Regulations.”
The report notes that in 2017, there were 231 ADA Title III lawsuits filed regarding website accessibility in New York, adding that a number of businesses are unaware that websites can be included under ADA Title III guidelines. Though website accessibility falls under the guidelines, the Department of Justice has not established “clear-cut rules as to how a business must alter or design their websites to be in full compliance.”
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.
The report also proposes a number of changes to solve the issue, including: providing a government-issued certification to businesses that are in compliance and have subsequent inspections and enforcement; capping damages to plaintiffs and the reimbursement of lawyers’ fees; and requiring annual reviews by the New York Attorney General’s Office for law firms filing the most ADA Title III lawsuits.