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Arizona cuts deal to stop mass disability-related lawsuits

Arizona's Attorney General and a disability advocacy group have come to an agreement ending a mass of lawsuit filed lately against businesses for being noncompliant with handicap accommodations.

A lot of small businesses are probably feeling a sense of major relief in the wake of this deal. It puts an end to over 1,700 cases of alleged disability discrimination and failure to accommodate filed by a single advocacy group and prevents the group from filing new ones.

In addition, the group will provide the Office of the Attorney General $25,000 to fund education for small business owners about their need to accommodate the disabled. The group will also assist in the creation of a fund that will help businesses that can't afford immediate renovations on their own make the necessary changes to become compliant.

The Attorney General had considered a lot of the lawsuits to be both frivolous and unnecessary -- since they were over minor violations, like the exact grade of a wheelchair slope or how high a toilet dispenser roll has to be from the floor. Lawsuits were filed against businesses with even minor deviations from the law.

The advocacy group defended itself by saying that it never intended the lawsuits as money-makers. As a charity, the funds were gained through the lawsuits were allegedly put back into the disabled community.

Essentially, the advocacy group didn't really have much choice about cutting the deal -- the state's legislature had become fed up with what it considered to be "drive-by" lawsuits targeting businesses that couldn't afford to fight back. Accordingly, it erected new barriers to litigation -- giving businesses 60 days, minimum, to resolve any issues.

Plus, even if a group pursues a lawsuit, if a judge can determine the complaint is being filed by any sort of "vexatious litigant," or someone who goes about filing multiple, similar lawsuits, there are penalties for the plaintiff.

All of the defendants can combine their cases, which allows the defendants to pool their defense funds -- giving them more power to fight back. The new laws also prevent the court from levying penalties and awarding compensatory damages to the plaintiffs.

Just the same, small businesses need to brush up on disability accommodation laws -- because they could face similar suits in federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Source: Chino Valley Review, "State reaches agreement to end rash of disability lawsuits," Howard Fischer, Nov. 13, 2017

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