Arizona Legislators Come Together With Disability Lawsuits Bill

By CLARICE SILBER | April 6, 2017

Two competing proposals designed to crack down on disability access lawsuits that opponents say are just shakedowns for quick cash settlements have been merged into a single plan.

The amended bill that revives and includes important parts of the two failed measures was approved by an Arizona House committee last week and now awaits action in the full House.

It is designed to limit abuse of disability laws that have entangled small businesses, lawyers and the disability community.

Republican Rep. Don Shooter of Yuma oversaw the negotiations involving the competing measures. He said he told interested parties the real adversaries “are these scumbag lawyers.”

“They prey on the disabled community, they prey on the business community, I would hope that (they) would unite to try to stop that bad behavior,” Shooter said.

Senate Bill 1406 is meant to target what legislators call unscrupulous attorneys who are exploiting businesses by finding violations with the Arizonans with Disabilities Act and filing lawsuits. The claims are often dropped after the businesses agree to a cash settlement.

The issue led Attorney General Mark Brnovich to ask a state court to dismiss more than 1,000 accessibility lawsuits filed by the disability advocacy group Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities on grounds it did not have legal standing.

The complaints against businesses typically result from plaintiffs’ visits to parking lots where they look for infractions involving unsuitable spaces and proper signage, or at times the lack of van accessibility.

The revised legislation draws components from proposals by Sen. John Kavanagh and Rep. Maria Syms, both Republicans from suburban Phoenix.

The measure would give businesses a 30 day notice period to fix violations before they could be hit with lawsuits. Kavanagh’s initial attempt tried to provide them 60 to 90 days.

Kavanagh said the amended bill is “very close to a reasonable compromise that everybody can live with.”

The bill details the type of complaints that would apply, including the height, wording and color of parking-lot signs, width of van accessible parking spaces, lack of exterior signs, color and condition of parking-lot striping and warning surfaces on ramps.

It also retains Syms’ previous focus on recurring plaintiffs and attorneys, giving courts the ability to fine those they decide have filed suits just to receive money.

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