A few years ago I wrote about predatory Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) litigation that affected one of our clients. He paid $25,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an attorney for a guest alleging that the ADA grab bars in the hotel shower were too high. Although the suit was without merit, the attorney for the client indicated the lowest cost option was to settle.
Well, two years later, the problem is not getting any better. Recently, Skip Descant, a reporter for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California, penned an article that made me shake my head.
It seems that 35 hotels in the region surrounding Palm Springs, from small independent hotels such as the Aloha Hotel – Palm Springs to large nationally franchised hotels like the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort — are being hit with more ADA lawsuits. The claims allege that the properties are out of compliance with the landmark 1990 federal law that has helped to create public spaces despite hotel properties being infinitely more accessible for the disabled now than decades ago.
According to Descant, the lawsuits were filed by Theresa Brooke, a disabled Arizona woman. Each lawsuit — filed in April and May — makes the same claim: The hotel lacks the proper pool lift. Each lawsuit requests that the hotel takes the same set of corrective measures: install a pool lift and pay $8,500 in damages plus legal fees to Brooke. According to these lawsuits, like most others of this kind, Brooke called the hotel to ask if a pool lift was available for each pool and Jacuzzi spa. If the hotel official said one was not available, a representative for Brooke was dispatched to the hotel to verify the absence of the lift.
Descant reports that officials with the hotel industry say ADA lawsuits like those filed by Brooke in the Coachella Valley amount to “extortion” enabled by unscrupulous lawyers. “It’s not an illegal racket. But it’s a form of legal extortion, in the legal sense,” said Jim Abrams, former president and CEO of the California Hotel & Lodging Association, who now serves as legal adviser for the California Association of Boutique and Breakfast Inns.
“This is an epidemic in California, and in many, many cases all claimants want is some quick money — $4,000, $5,000, $10,000 — and don’t really ever care if anything’s ever made accessible,” he added.