We are pleased to report that during the week of September 17, 2012, Governor Brown signed a bill reforming Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) access law. The measure, Senate Bill (SB) 1186, will curb lawsuit abuse regarding the ADA while promoting increased compliance with building codes addressing disabled access.
This new legislation is a culmination of a multi-year, bipartisan effort that included leadership from the state level, Senator Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento,) and Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga,) as well as federal support from United States Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA.)
SB 1186 is being hailed as a comprehensive and significant reform to California’s ADA Law. It passed the legislature by a two-thirds vote in the wee hours of Friday night. California currently has 40 percent of the nation’s ADA lawsuits, but only 12 percent of the country’s disabled population.
Among its provisions, this measure prohibits pre-litigation “demands for money” by unscrupulous attorneys; puts into place new provisions to prevent “stacking” of multiple claims to increase statutory damages; reduces statutory damages and provides litigation protections for defendants who correct violations; and establishes priorities for the California Commission on Disabled Accessibility that promote and facilitate disability access compliance. Other features of this new law include:
- If a business is in a location that was completed after January 1, 2008, or for any business in California that has received a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) inspection, that business will have 60 days to fix a violation, and its statutory damages may be reduced from $4,000 to $1,000 – a 75 percent reduction.
- Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees that have not had a CASp inspection will have 30 days to fix a violation, and can see their statutory damages reduced from $4,000 to $2,000 – a 50 percent reduction.
- SB 1186 ends “demand for money” letters from attorneys. Letters can still be sent to a business alerting them of a potential violation or infraction, but that letter cannot include a “demand for money.” Attorneys sending those letters will be required to also send a copy of the letter to the California State Bar, who will examine the letter to make certain that it meets the requirements of the law.
- Attorneys will also be required to send a copy of letters sent to businesses to the California Commission on Disabilities (CCDA.) CCDA will be required to compile a “Top 10” list of violations to be posted on its website by July 1, 2013, and also a list of those attorneys and law firms who are filing the bulk of the lawsuits.
- SB 1186 provides an avenue for local cities and counties to expand the CASp program in their communities in order to help bring local businesses into ADA compliance, and to develop tools that will help educate the business community in expanding ADA access.