When Mili Shah got a copy of the lawsuit against her hotel, she knew right away something was off about it. Mili grew up in the hotel business but left to become a lawyer. The business called her back, and she now owns a hotel in the Atlanta area. Reading through the suit, it eventually clicked. The lawsuit was word-for-word identical to the suit her father received against his business. It alleged her pool lacked a pool lift as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but her hotel’s pool was closed and covered. It was evident the plaintiff had never visited the property.
The lawsuit against Mili was the perfect example of what is called a drive-by lawsuit, where the individuals simply drive by the business, never attempting to patronize it, before filing a lawsuit that is nearly identical to dozens, if not hundreds, of others filed.
Unfortunately, this story could be repeated tens of thousands of times throughout the country. Plaintiffs have been targeting small businesses like her's—restaurants, convenience stores, retail shops and hotels—for vague, meritless lawsuits that allege a violation of the ADA. The lawsuit is followed up by an offer to settle out of court for thousands of dollars, often an amount just lower than it would cost to defend the business in court.
These lawsuits do not accomplish what the ADA was meant to do. It was meant to remove barriers for our fellow Americans with disabilities. Vague lawsuits and greedy offers to settle do nothing but enrich lawyers while leaving small business owners wondering which part, if any, of the ADA law they were in violation of.
Drive-by lawsuits have reached epidemic proportions. More than 18,000 have been filed since 2013, with 2016’s total of 6,601 marking a 37 percent increase year over year. Worse, the pace of lawsuits in the first half of 2017 is up 18 percent over 2016. The escalating scale of the issue prompted Anderson Cooper to investigate it for “60 Minutes” last December, shining a light on it for a national audience.
To curb the abuse of this landmark civil rights law, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill have sponsored a simple yet critical fix. Eleven Democrats have joined a dozen Republicans in sponsoring the ADA Education and Reform Act by Rep. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas). This reform bill would strengthen the ADA and protect small business owners.
Instead of enriching lawyers, it would give business owners a period of time to fix the issues. Instead of vague lawsuits that do not mention the alleged infraction, it would require a written notice with enough specifics to identify the barrier.
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill out of their committee for the second Congress in a row, but that is not enough. Small business owners are calling on Congress to take action to fix this issue, and that means sending this bill to the Senate and then to the president’s desk.
We urge lawmakers sitting on the sidelines of the issue to take a moment to learn Mili’s story, or one of the thousands of other stories just like hers. This bill is critically important for small businesses and would ultimately strengthen the ADA by creating strong incentives to eliminate barriers rather than file lawsuits.
Chip Rogers is the president and CEO of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. AAHOA has more than 16,500 members who own nearly one in every two hotels in the country.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.