Wednesday, July 23, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

ADA attorney sweeps area

CLOSED — Jill Thurston, co-owner of the Pony Expresso on Pony Express Trail in Pollock Pines  carries a box of coffee flavorings to her car last month. The business owners, Jill and Harry were forced out of their business by an ADA attorney. Democrat file photo by Pat Dollins

Jill Thurston, co-owner of the Pony Expresso on Pony Express Trail in Pollock Pines carries a box of coffee flavorings to her car Friday. The business owners, Jill and Harry were forced out of their business by an ADA attorney. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

By
From page A1 | March 14, 2012 |

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was a good idea — making sure that all people, including those with disabilities have access to services and businesses — but the interpretation of the regulations in states like California that award monetary damages for ADA violations has created an abundant income for some and economic crisis for others — not the intent of the law.

Carmichael attorney and quadriplegic Scott Johnson recently blanketed Tahoe area, Pollock Pines, Camino and Placerville businesses and property owners with federal lawsuits citing violations of ADA laws and claiming monetary damages of $4,000 for each actual visit and each “deterred, foregone” visit.

Business owners, many of whom thought they were ADA compliant, are frightened. In the current economy some can’t afford to remodel or even to hire an attorney to represent them in a federal lawsuit. Others have old buildings on tiny lots that don’t lend themselves to the needed modification. They accommodate people with disabilities by moving furniture or in any way they can. Some property owners haven’t addressed the compliance issue at all. Few know what tools and options are available to save their businesses and still accommodate people with disabilities.

So, many businesses settle out of court by paying damages and hoping Johnson goes away. With their money in his pocket, he does go away, but he or another disabled person could come back if the violations are not corrected.

In a phone interview with the Mountain Democrat, Johnson described his actions: “I’m changing the way California does business, one ramp at a time.”

Johnson, 47, one of the busiest “frequent filers” in California, was one of the subjects of a Sacramento Bee series in 2006 about the issue of ADA lawsuits. While he does file lawsuits on behalf of other disabled people, Johnson said the majority are filed with himself as the plaintiff. He receives the monetary damages and with almost 1,100 lawsuits, at $4,000 for each visit, the pennies stack up to more than $4 million.

Pollock Pines resident Kerry Richman is subject to seizures and her service dog accompanies her everywhere.

“When I first moved here, people weren’t used to seeing a dog in a restaurant or the grocery store. I had to educate them, even my dentist. It’s a community with very few disabled people. But what Scott Johnson is doing makes me sick. The ADA Act was designed to get businesses to comply — not to shut them down. I educate, I don’t sue.”

Why don’t businesses comply?

It’s been more than 20 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect, so why are some businesses still not in compliance? Part of the problem may lie in the discrepancies between the California Building Code accessibility laws and the federal ADA laws.

“When we inspect a building, it’s according to California Building Code and the accessibility laws,” said John Brownlee, Placerville building inspector. “California accessibility laws are almost the same as the federal ADA laws — in some cases more stringent.”

Neither the state nor the local building agencies are legally allowed to enforce any ADA provisions that they know are more stringent than California’s Title 24, according to the California Disabled Accessibility Guidebook. At times, the differences are of a degree or an inch — inches that Johnson with his team of assistants take full advantage of.

In order for a business to be absolutely sure they are in compliance with federal ADA regulations, the Placerville Planning Department often recommends the business owner hire a Certified Access Specialist who will come out to the business to identify areas of non-compliance and explain what needs to be done.

“If you’ve hired a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) to do a survey and you’ve developed a plan of action and are taking steps to become in compliance, that stops the lawsuits,” said Brownlee. “There’s no timeline on when all the compliance issues have to be resolved, but there’s also no out on ADA compliance. It applies to government buildings and multi-family residences like apartments as well. Even historical buildings are only partially exempt.”

Johnson agrees about CASp.“The best insurance against a lawsuit is to have a CASp certification. It’s a tool that’s grossly underutilized by businesses. I’ve never sued a single business with a CASp certification. I didn’t put Pony Expresso out of business. They could have relocated in a compliant building or made the modifications which would have only come to about $200.”

Comments

comments

.

News

EID ditch customers get relief

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A1

 
Veterans receive wildland fire training

By News Release | From Page: B1

Market data open for local biz

By Ross Branch | From Page: B1

 
Heard over the back fence: Attorney to warn about scams

By Bob Billingsley | From Page: B1

 
Road zone of benefit protester reaches dead end

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Six file for Dist. 2

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1

 
District 2 candidates forum Aug. 14

By News Release | From Page: B1

 
Volunteers clean up national forest

By News Release | From Page: A3 | Gallery

.

Opinion

My turn: Special interests at EID

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: A4

 
Russian metastasis

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

The Democratic-Chronicles: Not invented here

By Gene Altshuler | From Page: A4

 
.

Letters

DA hogging Main St. parking

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
CAO and staff hiring friends

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Altshuler’s hypocrisy

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Small Farm compromise

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

EID and Dale Coco

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
.

Sports

Roundup: July 22, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Dolphins ring up another title

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Sharks defeat Loomis Basin in season finale

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Celebrity golf at Tahoe

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Dodgeball: Not the national pastime but …

By Shane Theodore | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
.

Prospecting

At a glance: Comets to meteors

By Mimi Escabar | From Page: B2

 
Taste the best at the State Fair

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Tractor Supply Store recognized

By Uc Cooperative | From Page: B3

 
Amador Fair honors cowboys

By Amador County Fair | From Page: B3

 
Arbor Day book helps to identify trees

By Arbor Day | From Page: B4

Learn about lavender and its many benefits

By Christian Women's Connection | From Page: B4

 
Lee’s Feed appreciates customers

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B5

 
My Time meeting in August

By Senior Day | From Page: B5

Builders’ Exchange honors scholars

By El Dorado Builders' Exchange | From Page: B5

 
En garde at Silver Screen Classic

By Auburn Silver Screen | From Page: B5

.

Essentials

Weather stats 7-22-14

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

 
Crime Log: July 8-10

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

.

Obituaries

Walter Vali

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Jean Lachelle Taylor

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Arthur J. Funston

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
.

Real Estate

.

Comics

Sudoku

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A8

New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Flying McCoys

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Horoscope, Thursday, July 24, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Horoscope, Wednesday, July 23, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Working It Out

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A8