The Disability Money Machine

By Michael Seinberg

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was designed to provide equal access, opportunities, and jobs to our nation’s disabled citizens.  What the crafters likely did not intend, is that one of those jobs would be professional plaintiff. As The New York Times recently reported, many of our disabled citizens are being used by law firms to sue small businesses.   One individual was involved in 143 suits, sometimes as many as nine in a single day.

Like in California, a group of enterprising trial lawyers have created a thriving industry suing small businesses for even the slightest violations of  the ADA. The lawyers claim they are just hard working advocates for the disabled. But with the possibility of earning $6,000 in legal fees per case and virtually no cases ever being tried in court, it’s a little tough to swallow.

These cases have been a huge problem in California and Florida, and now New York is joining the club. The cases have been particularly widespread in New York City where old architecture and tight space adds to the problem. The real giveaway that this is about money is that in virtually every case, the business in question could be given 90 days fix whatever alleged problem exists – from lowering shelves and counters to improving ramps. In every case though, the suit is filed immediately and the business has no choice but to make the improvements AND pay hefty legal bills.

Further revealing that this issue is about money, not justice, is the fact that in many cases the plaintiffs do not even patronize the businesses they are suing. The attorneys develop a pool of disabled people in a given locale and then use them on a rotating basis each time a new suit is filed.

“All they want is money; they get the money, and they move on to the next target,” said Ming Hai, an attorney from Queens who has worked to defend businesses from these suits. “It has become a profession to go out and look for a little problem here and there,” added Hai.

And if that’s not enough, these cases clog up New York courts while taxpayers foot the bill. The end result is not improved conditions for the disabled, but a growing list of businesses that cannot or will not operate in New York.

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