The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities and to provide them with remedies for violations of the law. However, the law is often complex and contradictory and there is no comprehensive administrative oversight. The compliance manual alone is over 270 pages. Thus, businesses often do not know what their obligations are, leading to the ADA being primarily enforced through litigation.
Currently, when a lawsuit is filed alleging an accessibility violation, successful plaintiffs are entitled only to injunctive relief, meaning the problem or violation is remedied, and their attorney’s fees. This creates an incentive for attorneys, often seeking settlement, to file lawsuits independent of how quickly the violations are fixed. This has resulted in a cottage industry of ADA lawsuits that not only saddle employers with unfair litigation and settlement costs, but prevent the access problems at issue from being corrected in a timely manner.
The Ohio Chamber testified in support of House Bill 271 because it offers a meaningful solution to this very serious problem. The bill proposes a notification process prior to the filing of a civil action. Once the notice is received, the business has 15 days to respond in one of three ways. First, the business can respond stating the improvements that will alleviate the access violation will be made within 90 days, or within an additional 180 days if a reasonable explanation for the delay is given. Second, the business may dispute the violation. Third, the business may state that the alleged violation has already been remedied and attach evidence verifying the statement. If the improvements are not made or the business disputes the violation, then the individual may continue on with filing a lawsuit.
Today, a business may not even know of a violation until they receive a lawsuit. The process laid out in HB 271 would disincentivize lawsuits in favor of both sides coming together to reach timely and workable solutions and would facilitate better compliance. The bill’s requirement that an individual provide notice of an alleged violation prior to filing a lawsuit is reasonable and provides businesses with an opportunity to fix or remedy the violation prior to litigation.
By giving businesses the ability to address alleged violations prior to going to court it will help lower legal costs and make sure the problems are fixed. However, it would not close the door to litigation if the violation is disputed. This legislation reasonably balances the interests of ensuring access for individuals with disabilities and preventing lawsuit abuse plaguing businesses.