Calif. Governor Signs ADA Tort-Reform Bill

May 11, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — After it passed the California Legislature unanimously, Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill giving protections to small businesses against frivolous Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits.

Under Senate Bill 269, which takes effect immediately, businesses with under 50 employees will be given additional time to fix ADA violations before being slapped with fines from the state. If sued, businesses would also be allowed 15 days to address violations claimed in the lawsuit.

The bill's author, state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, called Brown's signing a "major victory for all Californians."

"SB 269 is a bipartisan, common-sense solution that will guarantee access for disabled Californians by providing small businesses with the tools and resources necessary to comply with state and federal disability access regulations," Roth said in a statement.

Lawmakers said the ADA reforms will allow business owners to address minor violations such as weathered or missing parking lines, sidewalks painted the wrong color or missing signage. These minor violations can draw a minimum $4,000 fine and most ADA lawsuits allege multiple violations.

California has become a breeding ground for ADA lawsuits since the act was signed in 1990, with an estimated 40 percent of all ADA cases nationwide filed in the Golden State. Serial litigants such as Robert McCarthy and Scott Johnson have filed thousands of lawsuits against California businesses.

Johnson, who is paralyzed, has already filed more than 80 ADA lawsuits in California Federal Courts in 2016.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses said it hopes SB 269 will minimize "shakedown lawsuits" and allow small businesses the chance to fix minor violations.

"California's legal climate remains one of the highest costs of doing business in this state, and SB 269 moves the needle in the right direction," federation director Tom Scott said in statement. "While this bill does not completely fix California's hostile legal climate, hopefully it helps to move us away from being annually ranked the number one judicial hellhole in the nation by the American Tort Reform Association."

Brown vetoed a similar ADA reform bill in 2015 due to a clause that allowed businesses to write off certain expenses related to ADA compliance. The vetoed bill would have created tax credits for businesses hiring certified access specialists to inspect their facilities.