Imagine you're a small business, and one day you are sued because a posted handicapped parking sign in your parking lot is only 59 inches off the ground, and not 60.
You can spend tens of thousands of dollars to fight the suit over several months, or, you can settle for less. It may sound ridiculous, but the law is the law. And for some, it's an opportunity to collect some cash.
Last year an advocacy group in Phoenix filed over 1,000 lawsuits against businesses for violating requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. In many instances, the plaintiffs demanded thousands of dollars for a settlement over the slightest of technicalities, many of which could be remedied quickly. But remedy was seldom an option. According to TV station ABC-15, which broke this particular story, the charity was assisted by a handicapped individual who acted as the plaintiff on most of the suits, even though the person had not physically been to a number of the properties that were eventually sued.
In Florida, an investigative reporting team discovered a man who had filed over 1,000 ADA lawsuits, one of them even alleging that a business had a toilet paper dispenser that wasn't the right height.
Stories similar to this have sprouted up across the country, and lawmakers have taken notice.
Republican Congressman Ted Poe from Texas is the point man for bipartisan legislation he hopes will reinvigorate the original spirit of the ADA while tamping down on the spigot of dollars flowing from frivolous or predatory lawsuits that can also be a drain on courts. Poe's legislation primarily aims for small businesses to be notified of any deficiencies in their ADA compliance and then have a cure period to fix the violation. The business can only be sued after the notice and cure period have passed.
"The whole purpose of the bill, if there's a problem with the ADA at this particular business, is to fix the problem! But the trolls don't care about fixing the problem, they care about getting the money, which really doesn't even fix the problem!" Poe said.
Three Democratic representatives from California are co-sponsors of the bill. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed state legislation that would also give businesses a grace period to fix deficiencies with the ADA, especially those deficiencies related to signage.
Other states have tried to limit the so-called "drive-by lawsuits." Minnesota recently passed a law intended to increase accessibility for disabled individuals while at the same time reducing lawsuits.
Poe had a nearly identical bill in the house in 2016 that advanced, but the clock ran out. This year, he says he's already heard positive indications from members of the judiciary committee that his reintroduced bill should get quick approval to move to the house floor.
"The challenge is to let folks understand that this is an improvement of the ADA, this is not a bill that limits the ADA," Poe said.