Dentists are targets of plaintiffs (actually in Sacramento, ONE PARTICULAR PLAINTIFF by the name of Scott Johnson…) who use the ADA to create an opportunity for a form of legal extortion. Not the American Dental Association ADA, but the Americans with Disabilities Act ADA, which dentists like to refer to as the “AwDA” as if that is clear. OK, I’m sorry for the reverse psychology of the attention grabbing title for this post, but driving to and from my clients’ offices recently, I saw the potential for many of them having this kind of nuisance suit.
The ADA specifies architectural standards that are mandatory. In 2008, the rule for changed for “handicapped” parking, now referred to as “Accessible” or “Van Accessible” or “disabled” parking. Today, if you have parking in your complex, you need at least one accessible parking space. If you have only one accessible space, it must be Van Accessible. For greater numbers of spaces, your can look at a striping chart available here from the Department of Justice.
The disabled plaintiff does not even have to call your office for an appointment, but can do this as a “drive by” infringement on his/her rights. Here’s how it’s done. John Doe, the disabled plaintiff, sees your parking lot has no spaces adequately striped and designated with the proper blue signs, diagonal striping, 12″ “NO PARKING” lettering on the pavement, and 96″ of passenger side clearance. Here is a picture of a legally sized space in Lodi.
The van parking has the correct width and the corridor is correctly sized as well. Note the “VAN ACCESSIBLE” blue sign on the left. Across the street is another facility in close but not perfect complete compliance. The signage is also correct, but most advisors recommend a blue stripe to identify the no parking zone. I do not think this one is so far afield that it would draw a lawsuit.
Since there is no other van accessible parking in the complex, and only these two spaces, this is a potential lawsuit. The plaintiff drives by and discovers that he cannot access the building at all because there is no van accessible space. He sends a letter saying you are in violation of the ADA, and requires you to send a list of your violations and a correction or mitigation plan. Most owners ignore the letter. It is followed by another letter that insists on a sum of money, $5000 to $10,000 to prevent a lawsuit. If you send it, he stops action. If you don’t, he files the lawsuit.
A February 2010 issue of the Sacramento District Dental Society News featured several articles about Mr. Johnson’s escapades and has some additional advice from qualified inspectors called Certified Access Specialists or CASp. More information is also available from the CalChamber.
Mr. Johnson is a quadriplegic attorney. He apparently has a successful career making a bad name for my second profession, and is making his living suing and threatening to sue business owners. But he is not always successful. Recently a business owner filed a countersuit and won. Johnnie Walker manages a business property at 6500 Watt Avenue in Sacramento. Mr. Johnson had the last word, insisting on a formal inspection after the improvements are complete, but the judge ordered him to pay Mr. Walker’s $5100.00 court costs.
Bottom line: Have your property inspected. Contact a CASp and let the inspector start in the parking lot and continue through the entire office. Plan to be in compliance with the ADA and have a certification of your inspection and improvements. A list of Certified Access Specialists is available from Governor Brown here.