THE SCOURGE OF PROFESSIONAL PLAINTIFFS

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The ADA is a noble law, and not just for bleeding-heart types of reasons. Certainly, it is primarily motivated by the emotional desire to see those among us suffering from a disability enjoy the same opportunities as everyone else. But it also seeks to do so reasonably. On the employment side, it insists on a dialogue and asks employers to provide reasonable accommodations. Public places too have sensible duties, to provide access by doing what is readily achievable or by taking advantage of renovations.

Yet some are intent on perverting the statute. They are known as professional plaintiffs, who stroll small businesses without any intent to patronize them. They seek only to find something to sue about, some (real or imagined) barrier to access. And sue they do, by the dozens in some cases. Federal courts have noted how most ADA lawsuits are brought by a few professional plaintiffs.

Some of them may be well intentioned, thinking themselves champions for the disabled. Others (and, regrettably, their attorneys) have more dubious motives. They target small businesses for a reason. They thing mom and pop shops are less likely to fight back, to hire an attorney, to take the time and money to go to court, more likely to settle quickly and move on.

That would be a mistake. One woman in Jacksonville sued 40 small businesses in a matter of weeks. She’s likely still going. After one business owner settled… she sued them again over their second location. Simply put, settling only offers encouragement for more misbehavior.

We stand ready to advise businesses facing serial suers. We do not recommend that they be obstructionists for the sake of obstruction. They should honor the ADA’s call for access and dialogue, even when others do not. We will be the first to point out where they can give a hand to their disabled customers. But we will also advise when it may be time to fight back against professional plaintiffs intent giving a bad name to a good law.