You know a topic is relevant when “60 Minutes” runs a story on the topic. Their program titled “Drive-By Lawsuits” that aired in early December explained how the Americans with Disabilities Act has resulted in hundreds if not thousands of lawsuits where individuals have filed complaints against businesses not as actual customers, but based solely on a drive-by of the property or worse yet, by viewing the property on Google Maps and basing a claim on what is seen only from the computer screen.
Yet the way the law is written, if there is a violation (which there commonly is, even if it is just a technical violation) a lawsuit can be brought and the plaintiff is entitled to recover its attorneys’ fees for bringing the action. Because of this right, many law firms will bring multiple cases filed on behalf of one or more individual plaintiffs, a practice called “serial filing”. As the TV show explained, there was one case involving pool lifts where one lawyer filed approximately 60 cases in only 57 days.
These cases are certainly resulting in more scrutiny and the courts are beginning to challenge the legitimacy of some of these mass-filed cases. Although the plaintiffs may have identified technical violations of the Act as part of their lawsuits, the Courts have begun to look at the plaintiff’s actual injuries because of the violation as well as the plaintiff’s status as a true customer to determine if it had valid standing to file the action. Further, as the TV show explained, even some of the lawyers who have brought these actions are subject to investigation. Some have even been sued by their clients based on false promises regarding what the plaintiffs would be paid or what would happen if they helped to file the lawsuits.
But these obstacles to these ADA lawsuits are limited and therefore many landlords remain susceptible to these actions. Certainly, self storage operators are not immune from potential liability under the ADA because self storage facilities are identified as “public accommodations” under the law which means that they must remove barriers to entry for disabled customers when it is “readily achievable” to do so.
Recent amendments to the law have added storage roll up doors to the list of items that must be accessible to the disabled as well. The ADA includes space accessibility "scoping requirements" that apply specifically to self storage buildings and their doors. The storage space regulations require that storage unit doors be accessible as follows: 5% if less than 200 units, 10 units + 2% if more than 200, dispersed among the different "classes” of spaces provided. Since the term “classes” is undefined, it means either the size of a unit or the type of unit (i.e. climate controlled). If there are more classes than the number of accessible units that are required, operators do not need to have additional accessible units just to have one in each class.
Operators of public business must consider auditing their properties for compliance and acting to remedy their violations before they are sued under this law. Once sued, the property owner risks significant financial and public exposure to its business. Something that could be avoided by implementing a policy to remove barriers to entry or use that are financially reasonable for the business to fix.