BOSTON – Legislation filed by Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) recently advanced from the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. The bill, which would establish basic protections for small businesses that are targeted by exploitative lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), received unanimous support from Committee members and has moved through to the next step in the legislative process.
The bill addresses so-called “drive-by lawsuits” which are based on ADA claims made by individuals, who are neither disabled nor customers, in order to extract a monetary settlement from a business owner. The violation could be as particular as a misworded handicap parking sign. With continuing advancements in technology, the practice is becoming even more common. Some individuals are using applications such as Google Maps to find violations and to target sites that they may have never physically visited. Oftentimes they target dozens of businesses simultaneously within the same vicinity.
The bill would require that the business be notified of the violation and be given up to 60 days to rectify the issue before a lawsuit may be filed. Under current state law, a business owner can be brought into litigation with no notice informing them of their non-compliance status. Similar right-to-cure standards exist under different areas of law including the Consumer Protection Act.
“The ADA is an essential protection for our disability community,” said Senator Moore. “This bill will protect business owners and the courts from frivolous lawsuits without removing the important protections set forth by the ADA. I am hopeful that this bill will arrive on the Governor’s desk during the current legislative session.”
“Small business owners are often just one frivolous lawsuit away from being forced to close their doors forever,” said Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Senate bill 1346 seeks to give business owners an opportunity to rectify any ADA public accommodation violations before they face an expensive lawsuit. This is common-sense legislation that will safeguard hard-working small businesses from those serial plaintiffs and attorneys who seek to inflict financial damages as their primary source of income.”
“This legislation will not only add protections for small businesses regarding violations and enforcement around accessibility issues; it further adds protections for the disability community creating greater access to local, small businesses,” stated W. Stuart Loosemore, Esq., General Counsel and Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. “This proposed new law is not intended to create a shield for bad actors, instead it creates the ability for a business or property owner to cure an accessibility issue that they may not have realized exists.”
“Drive-by lawsuits unnecessarily threaten Massachusetts businesses with significant legal costs that are particularly burdensome on small businesses with limited resources,” said Jon Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “Yet such claims are often based on easily correctable technical violations. By providing businesses with the opportunity to cure these violations, this legislation not only protects our businesses, but also provides a more efficient means for achieving the underlying policy goal of providing public access.”
To continue tracking the bill, S.1346, please visit the Legislature’s website, www.malegislature.gov.