Today, the Ohio Senate approved House Bill 271, which will attempt to curb frivolous lawsuits faced by Ohio businesses as it relates to disability accessibility. Laws regarding disability accessibility, 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 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 provides 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 which would facilitate 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.
Back in September, the Ohio Chamber testified in support of the measure in front of the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee. Following the full Senate approving the bill by a vote of 31-0, we look forward to Governor Kasich signing this important, pro-business measure into law.