In the restroom of a family-owned restaurant in Southern California, employees replaced a mirror that had been destroyed by vandals. Since the new mirror was two inches shorter than the old one, it was hanging two inches too high to satisfy disabilities regulations and standards. Once he was notified of the mistake, restaurant owner Ron Piazza immediately lowered the mirror. But it was already too late. Piazza’s restaurant was sued.
“It would have been very easy for them to let us know that the mirror was a couple of inches too high, and we could have taken care of that right away,” Piazza explained.
The plaintiffs are alleging that the height of Piazza’s mirror inflicted damages each time they visited – for a total of 27 incidents in a three month period. “The multiple visits allow the plaintiffs and their lawyer to sue for damages per visit… Had I not lowered the mirror, they probably would have continued to come and log more visits,” Piazza said. “It’s very clear to me that they were instructed by someone who really knew the law on how many times to visit, [and] what to look for.”
The same plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ lawyers who are suing Piazza have also filed against at least two neighboring restaurants for similar claims. But these few plaintiffs are only examples of a much larger problem.
California is earning a reputation for serial plaintiffs who actively seek out opportunities to file disabilities lawsuits. More Americans with Disabilities Act suits have been filed in California than in any other state, according to an article about a particular “frequent filer” in the San Francisco Weekly. Some of these plaintiffs have filed hundreds or even thousands of disabilities-related claims, often averaging several thousand dollars in profits for each one. (For example stories, see the Orange County Register and the San Diego Union-Tribune.)
Many of these suits have shuttered family-owned restaurants and small businesses. Fortunately, Piazza will keep his doors open, despite the fact that the lawsuit is costing more than the restaurant in question made last year. Given the potential impact of a lawsuit alleging such a minor violation, Piazza worries not only for his restaurant but for “every other business in California that’s having to sustain itself against these lawsuits.”
“Now I’m in the middle of a lawsuit, a very costly lawsuit… [because] I had a mirror in my men’s restroom that was a couple of inches too high.”