Disability accessibility laws, both state and federal, were enacted to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities, provide access to public accommodations and to provide individuals with remedies for violations of the law. However, these laws are often complex and technical with no comprehensive administrative oversight. Therefore, enforcement is primarily through litigation.
Currently, when a lawsuit is filed for an accessibility violation, successful plaintiffs are entitled only to injunctive relief, meaning the problem or violation is remedied and their attorney’s fees. This gives attorneys, often seeking settlement, an incentive to file lawsuits independent of how quickly the violations are fixed. This has resulted in a cottage industry of accessibility lawsuits that not only saddle employers with unfair litigation and settlement costs but also prevent the access problems at issue from being corrected in a timely manner.
HB 271 offers a meaningful solution to this very serious problem. The bill proposes a notification process as a prerequisite to being able to recover attorneys’ fees in cases under state accessibility law. Once the notice is received, the business has 15 business days to respond and is provided 60 days to remedy the violation. The bill also allows for an additional 60-day extension, for a total of 120 days, upon reasonable explanation of why the improvement will take longer than the original 60-day allotment.
Today, a business may not even know of a violation until a lawsuit is filed. The process laid out in this legislation would disincentivize lawsuits in favor of both sides coming together to reach timely and workable solutions, facilitating better compliance. Most businesses do not intentionally violate accessibility laws but are simply unclear about their obligations. This bill gives them a greater chance of addressing the alleged violation prior to going to court and will help lower legal costs for businesses that simply want to improve access. However, it would not close the door to litigation if the violation is disputed or if the individual chooses to forgo attorneys’ fees.
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act, that would impose similar requirements at the federal level. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce strongly supports HB 271, and federal reforms, because we believe this legislation reasonably balances the interests of ensuring access for individuals with disabilities and preventing lawsuit abuse plaguing businesses. Yesterday, HB 271 passed the Ohio House unanimously and now will move on to the Senate for further consideration.