Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week agreed: it's time to stop ADA abuse in Florida. As result, a bill that would help Florida business owners fight unnecessary ADA lawsuits recently swept through both the House and Senate unanimously.
The legislation, which still needs to be signed by the Governor, is Florida's most recent attempt to stop what critics have described as a movement less about helping the disabled and more about cashing in on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The bill gives business owners the ability to fight back lawsuits by allowing them to voluntarily hire a qualified ADA expert. That expert would create a remediation plan to fix any ADA violations within a reasonable period of time. In the event a business owner is sued for an ADA violation, the business owner could file the plan in court letting the judge know they are aware of the issues and are working on fixing the issues. As a result, the person bringing the claims would lose merit and the case would be thrown out.
When the bill was filed in February, Michael Marsh, owner of Shoreline Island Resort in St. Petersburg, described it as a step in the right direction. Marsh was sued a few years ago for not having a pool lift and not having proper ADA parking spaces among other things.
Marsh spoke with us back in November and expressed frustration over the lack of information he received from building code inspectors and city officials who approved renovations and additions to his St. Petersburg resort but never mentioned anything about ADA violations. In 2015, Marsh was sued by Howard Cohan, Florida's most prolific ADA plaintiff. Since 2012, Cohan has sued more than 1,200 Florida business owners over ADA violations. Cohan, who has never spoken publicly about his suits, claims he doesn't get paid and files lawsuits as an ADA advocate who is disabled himself.
For years, excessive ADA lawsuit filings have flooded court dockets around the state. The lawsuits all allege the same thing: the business is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit, which often looks the same other than the defendant's name and a list of violations, will describe how the business is violating the ADA Act. Violations range from a bathroom mirror that's too high to a disabled parking space that's non-existent.
But many business owners slapped with these lawsuits have cried foul, claiming they were served papers only to be served with an ultimatum from the plaintiff's attorney: pay to settle quickly or pay more to drag it out and possibly end up in court. The majority of ADA lawsuits filed in Florida settle out of court for undisclosed amounts of money because most settlements are confidential.
The bill was filed by (R) Representative Tom Leek of Daytona Beach. Leek is an attorney by trade and filed the bill after defending clients against ADA lawsuits he described as unnecessary and frivolous. Documents associated with the bill mention our series of investigations.