So, here is a topic that I never thought I would get educated in as a paralegal. I did not even know this gross opportunistic distortion of the ADA Act existed until I was approached by my longtime hair stylist out of the blue one day asking, begging and pleading for help. I, like most people blindly assumed that the Americans with Disabilities Act was in place to protect individuals who have been justly deprived equal access, discrimination etc.. That would be a good thing right? On its face who wouldn't desire to get on board. But, unfortunately some see it as an opportunity to unjustly enrich themselves off the backs of small business. Although, larger business's (10 or more employees) have also frequently found themselves as targets as well. In my research over a year 1/2 and following the patterns, Register of Actions in both the Superior Court of California and United States District Court at nauseum, exhaustion and significant financial expense small business's can be easy prey because they lack the financial ability to defend such a lawsuit from the day they are served to the day of trial. Not to mention the fear and emotional distress of the operators of the small business until the case is resolved. This frequently causes the Defendant(s) to settle the case simply because they lack the financial resources to defend the claims against them and the extreme fear that they may possibly have to shut their doors and go out of business, (Don't think that stops the Plaintiff in pursuing the case, although the issue should be moot after the close of the business, in my research Plaintiff's attorneys frequently don't give up that easy) . After becoming aware of these types of abuses I went around and actually saw a business closed nearby the salon that had writing on the front window of the business stating it was closed as a result of being an unjust target of a ADA Lawsuit. In trying to speak with some of the Defendants I came across in my research and investigation, they were afraid to discuss the case frequently stating that their settlement agreement prohibited them from discussing the case. Thus, feeding the beast. I actual discovered cases where the very same Plaintiff(s) filed yet another case against the very same Defendant(s) after settling a previous case against those same Defendants. I relayed that information to the salon owner's so that they were aware that settling the case against them could possibly result in another case being filed by the very same Plaintiff down the road.
When I was asked for help I have to be honest I wanted to run as this was uncharted territory for me as a paralegal. The Complaint was an obvious template because the Plaintiff in this case was a male and the Plaintiff's attorney in modifying the template Complaint neglected to change she/her to him/his throughout the Complaint. In reviewing Complaints filed by this same law firm on behalf of its Plaintiff(s) frequently the allegations were almost identical with names, dates, locations etc being changed. As a independent virtual paralegal I discussed the matter with Mahan & Mahan, Attorneys at Law, specifically Kevin M. Mahan, Esq. who encouraged me to give the salon a list of attorneys that I had discovered during my research who were seasoned and familiar with Plaintiff's attorney and this particular Plaintiff. I happily did so I must admit. But shortly thereafter the salon contacted me again stating they could not come up with the required retainer for any of the referrals given to them. I can assure you at the time this was not what I wanted to hear. Over the many years my family has patronized this salon including my grandchildren and over the years we became friends and were frequently invited to their family functions. I felt a certain obligation to help where I could. So under the guidance, assistance and direction of Mr. Mahan we embarked upon uncharted territory in the interest of justice all the way through to appearing at the trial. This particular case was active for 1 year and 5 months until it was DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. All throughout the case attorneys for Plaintiff put out settlement offers which were over $15,000.00, even stating that the Defendants could make monthly payments until paid in full. Nearing the Pretrial Conference Plaintiff's attorney even offered to dismiss the United States District Court case against the Defendants WITHOUT PREJUDICE, meaning Plaintiff could re-file another case in the Superior Court of California. These offers were tempting to the salon operators but they had already spent over $10,000 in a year and four months to defend this case so they declined Plaintiff's offers. There are so many procedures and paper in this type of case that drives the costs and fees. The day before trial Mr. Mahan receives yet another offer from Plaintiff's attorney and Defendants decline that offer as well. Personally this game of chicken was making me ill. I truly believe at that point the Defendants were sickened by the amount of information over that period of time that I had gathered through discovery, research and investigation and their fear etc, turned to anger and resentment and they decided to stand their ground in the interest of justice. Keeping in mind one of the Defendants in this case was not fluent in English. This particular Plaintiff had filed 133 almost identical lawsuits through the same law firm in a very short period of time. Some of which were filed on the very same day! In my research I found this NOT TO BE UNUSUAL.
Maybe I did all that research and investigation because of my long friendship with the Defendants. Most that know me will tell you that I lack the ability as a paralegal to throw just anything out there and frequently will take the extra time to research and investigate. I realize the term in the interest of justice doesn't pay the bills or the overhead, maybe some of us are just old souls who still believe in striving for that goal with that objective when they participate in any case.
No one can tell you which direction to go if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation. That has to be your decision. No case is ever a sure case, not even the best case. The best anyone you seek advice from can do is make you aware of your options, case strengths, weaknesses etc.. This particular case was over a faded handicapped parking space. Don't be penny wise and pound foolish, the fist step if ever faced with this type of lawsuit is retain YOUR OWN INDEPENDENT ADA COMPLIANCE INSPECTION from a licensed CASp INSPECTOR IMMEDIATELY and comply with any recommended corrections forthwith after receiving same.