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When Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime del Campo first opened their small Mexican restaurant, La Casita Mexicana, in 2000, they wanted to provide a taste of Mexican culture to the residents of Bell, California, a predominantly Latino city located just outside of Los Angeles.

“We wanted to offer our cuisines, our culture and traditions,” says Ramiro.

Running a small business is difficult, as shown by the large number of vacant storefronts in Bell. Unfortunately, lawsuit abuse is one challenge faced by far too many small business owners, including Jaime and Ramiro.

One day, Jaime and Ramiro received notice that they had been sued for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiff, who uses a wheelchair, claimed to have visited La Casita Mexicana and alleged (incorrectly) that the mirror in the restaurant’s bathroom violated the ADA by being too high for customers in wheelchairs.

The two restaurant owners were shocked by the lawsuit. “Handicapped people are very welcome [at La Casita Mexicana], and we have trained our [staff] to go out of their way to help them,” says Ramiro. “We couldn’t understand it.”

They then heard that several neighboring businesses were targeted by similar lawsuits from the same plaintiff, who has filed more than 500 ADA-related lawsuits. This plaintiff was clearly “targeting small businesses, especially in the Latino community,” says Jaime.

Jaime and Ramiro chose to fight the lawsuit. They looked at La Casita Mexicana’s surveillance video and discovered that the plaintiff had not visited the restaurant – ever. When confronted with this evidence, the plaintiff quickly dropped his lawsuit.

The costs of a lawsuit can be high for a small business owner. In an already weak economy, the costs of frivolous lawsuits could force some small businesses to close. As Jaime says,“we don’t want that to happen to La Casita Mexicana, and we don’t want that to happen to anybody.”

49 comments

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  • Yes, why didn’t the owner’s counter-sue. Sure, this one person was abusing the system, but what about all of the valid lawsuits. Restricting and reforming litigation always sounds like a good idea until you are the one trying to seek compensation for injuries or some other relief in the courts.

  • In Texas they had major tort reform revisions. Instead of getting rid of ridiculous suits, they limited the maximum recovery on medical malpractice claims. How does limiting large jury awards reduce the filing of frivolous lawsuits? It doesn’t. Just like not requiring workers’ compensation, Texas just puts more people on Federal welfare.

  • 0ver ten years ago, a similar lawsuit was filed against the Mission Ranch in Carmel. The owner fought it in court and won. But the owner also had the financial clout to be fight it and the moral character to know that the ADA laws were inflexible and subject to abuse. The owner was Clint Eastwood.

  • This sad case of abuse doesn’t appear to be a “Baseless Lawsuit” or Frivolous Lawsuit but a Fraudulent Lawsuit. Seems like a suit against the fraudulent claim brought against the restauranteurs might be the order of the day. Lawyers for the fraudsters might be on the hook for sanctions as well. The issue of fraud is already clearly addressed in law and the solution would seem to clearly lie in a judicial remedy. When the pain of perpetrating criminal activity exceeds the benefits the behavior will change. If the first of the 500+ ADA lawsuits had pushed back with their on claims (assuming the 1st ADA claim was also a fraud) Jaime del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu would have not been likely to have been sued by the apparent fraudster. Fight back is the advice I would give small business owners. The pain you save might be the next 499 potential business owners to be sued by a fraudster.

  • my wife and I are victims of a frivolous lawsuit. We spent our life savings (100k) defending our daughter in a frivolous law suit against her (a 22 year old college student that they knew wasn’t capable of paying any sort of judgment) It is forcing her into filing bankruptcy. We honestly believe the intent was to extort money from us, the parents

  • Cola (#5 above) is so right !

    My small company had to waste our time and our insurance company’s money to defend against a plaintiff who had a long record of frivolous suits. Sure, he did not receive any money, but nothing was done to “incentivize” him to not pursue his practise of doing so.

    Some falsely-sued company needs to make an example of the plaintiff and his lawyer; sue them both, and publicise the results throughout the legal community.

    The system needs to strongly dis-incentivize such behavior.

  • Were the premises outside the ADA? That is a legitimate question. Also, just because this guy lied about being there doesn’t mean the system is wrong. There are sanctions for that. These guys can counter sue for abuse of process and perhaps the prosecutor can look at a perjury charge if he signed an affidavit. That would be an interesting suit, but the failures of the restaurant, if any, might be relevant. This restaurant likely had insurance and that company hired and paid for the lawyer. They likely aren’t out any real money.

    I am not willing to sacrifice my rights to a jury trial because of this situation. The system can handle this. These guys didn’t close up shop. In fact this is silly, is this the best the Chamber of Commerce can do????

  • What a disgrace. We have decreed and lawful property rights which neighbors covet. Spending nearly $50,000 to have a case dismissed, go through all the rubberstamped processes with a visiting judge, defending against perjured statements, compelling discovery, any sanctions? Nope!

    Should we have any faith in the system, do we have any money left to put at risk? No.

    We paid for their protected free speech.

  • What kind of help can this Face of Lawsuit Abuse.org or the U.S. Chamber offer to us small businesses that are victims of these abuses? I’m a defendant in one of these ADA related abusive lawsuits where the plaintiff and his law firm are serial abusers. They are a huge law firm out of San Diego that specialize in going after small businesses and there is no way to fight them. One can only beg them to try to get a settlement as low as possible and they are so arrogant. It’s legalized extortion!

  • The ADA is there for a purpose, if the restaurant is not complying with the law they should be sued or should fix the problem. California passed a law expanding the rights of a litigant in an ADA case to allow them the right to recover $4,000.00 per day for violations. If Californians don’t like it tell the legislature to fix it. It is not a frivolous lawsuit to apply the laws that the State passes. If the person never was in the restaurant they should loose their case but if there is a problem fix it or pay a judgment. Which is cheaper?
    The system is built to weed out frivolous lawsuits and very few ever get very far. Don’t let the slanted media reports shape your views. It might be your family killed in an accident that can’t get full relief because of tort reform laws.

  • Those of us in a small business have to devote all of our time just to stay abreast of the many regulations. Then to answer the concerns of our employees and provide the very best product and services for our customers. Frivolous lawsuits in many cases is the straw that
    breaks us.

  • Good case for tort reform! And to those who suggest counter-suit instead: 1) Owners already said they don’t have a whole lot of money, 2) Why take a chance at getting negative publicity, 3) add risk exposure (ie. losing), and 4) spending good money for bad – obtain a judgment only to not be able to collect on it because the guy is broke, hence, why the scammer sued in the first place. Give me a break kiddos…

  • Another example of extortion by trial bar. The plaintiff and his lawyer should be charged with criminal extortion and thrown in jail for a long time. Until plaintiffs and lawyers are made accountable for their actions, this kind of nonsense will continue.

  • It appears that many are assuming the restaurant is guilty of something in spite of the fact nothing was proven. The owners should not have to take action. The district attorney’s office should go after him for fraud and seek damages for misuse of the system.

    Just because someone may have insurance is no reason to write it off. Insurance is way too high as it is because of this kind of thing.

  • Most states have sanction laws, that in a situation like this either the plaintiff or their attorney should be subjection to monetary sanction, including reimbursing the defendant.

  • This is a hard battle for small business. Only those that have to deal with all the problems of frivolous lawsuits are willing to do something about it. Every other person who is a happy slave to a corporation = employee does not care. After all their boss will deal with it. I do construction and I have to pay about 10% of my sales on insurance and lawyers fees just to be prepared for a lawsuit. I need employees desperately to grow but I can’t hire anyone because I cannot afford one of them getting hurt to get money. I have to turn down jobs with people I cannot cross check because I’m afraid they will take me to court. For those of you that say well counter-sued well I cannot spend all that time fighting all this people. As a business it seems like we spend more time with our lawyers that with our clients and that is not productive.

  • These types of laws, like the child welfare laws, protect the person filing the complaint, even when the allegations are false and intended as an attack on you. Similarly, anyone may file a child abuse complaint, without any proof, annonymously, against you, and the child welfare department will NOT give you the name or details of the complaintant. Socialist and communistic. They have made it so you may not protect yourself in America, but it is fine to attack you without any provable cause.

  • Perhaps we should have a system where true free speech should prevail. If the plaintiff has a problem he should directly complain or suck it up and patronize a different business with mirrors that accommadate his vanity. Or ask for help!

    Instead a business, or individual, must defend (pay for his free speech via an attorney) or default. It’s to easy for a blithering idiot attorney to file a lawsuit. Either they prove they did the maximum amount of due diligence before filing a lawsuit or be eternally roasted. And early in the process so an innocent defendant is not victimized from many nights of lost sleep and tens of thousands of dollars just to defend against BS.

  • I’m disabled, a wheelchair user. Lawsuits like this make me angry, because I see some people blame all people with disabilities for the actions of a small minority.

    Remember, there are frivolous lawsuits everywhere that involve able-bodied people, too. A friend of mine owns a deli, and periodically he gets sued for phony “slip and fall” incidents. He finds it easier and cheaper to pay rather than fight. That is the real injustice.

    People abuse car insurance laws, homeowner insurance laws, and find all kinds of ways to try to use different laws to profit from via lawsuits.

    So, don’t blame the laws, don’t blame people with disabilities. Blame the individuals involved, and blame the courts for not finding ways to stop this kind of abuse.

  • …no one should have to counter sue. The point is to stop these Lawyers and their lawsuits. They use the law to make themselves much more significant than they are by dragging people into the (un)justice system and raping them of their hard earned finances. Lawyers and judges don’t contribute to the overall well-being of this country or its economy and its far beyond time that business owners both big and small stand up!

  • My brother is an emergency dept doc. He is frequently has frivolous law suits brought against him. Usually for $1-2,000. The insurance company always wants to settle because its cheaper but my brother refuses to. He often has to pay the court fees himself but he can’t stand to see these “people” and their slimy lawyers get away with embezzling.

    The lawyers usually start off with –it will just be so much easier for everyone if you just settle out of court–even though he didn’t do anything wrong! Many of these “victims” make a living suing other people! He has won every time so far but the costs are HIGH!

  • Did some of you people miss the fact that the restaurant was in compliance? And they were being sued by a ‘victim’ who had never been to the business? Good that the ‘victim’ in this case dropped the suit when it was discovered that he was a liar, too bad there are scumbags out there trying to extort hard working peopke.

  • I do not practice law and never had the intent, but I did graduate from law school and passed the bar. What we need is two things — fewer law schools and graduates and to make the bar as difficult to pass as other professional examinations. In Florida, 1 out of 265 people of age to be, are lawyers. We need to get back to being a country of entrepreneurs, not lawyers. BTW, I went to law school because my lawyers knew nothing about business. After law school I discovered they also didn’t know much about law either.

  • My problem with some of the comments here are they claim the system is designed to weed out frivolous law suits and that tort reform would dramatically reduce our rights to sue.

    While I agree that we should have the right to seek damages against someone or some entity who does not exercise due care, we have set the bar so low on what ‘due care’ is that we are not responsible for our own stupidity. Case in point, look at all of the warnings on a curling iron and the admonitions not to insert into any orifice.

    How about suing an automobile manufacturer for not designing a vehicle capable of safeguarding someone who drives at 70+ on a dirt road and hits a sandy patch and then rolls numerous times – becoming a parapalegic.

    Those who state that no reforms are needed are just flat wrong, or money grubbing lawyers who wish to game the system for their own profit. Even in cases that have no true merit, companies will settle out of court rather than fight and win a case that costs more than a settlement. And, as sue happy as we are, you look at multiple such suits, why fight it when it would bankrupt you?

    In the end, we all pay more for goods and services because the insane are running the asylum!

  • There should be a judgement somewhere along the lines on if a lawsuit is frivolous (or fraudulent) at which point the person being sued has the right to counter-sue or even be awarded their own costs without a trial.
    I don’t want to eliminate someone’s ability to sue but the people who file frivolous lawsuits need to suffer when they abuse the system.

  • The problem is the plantiff’s lawyers involved with the lawsuits have people in the government writing the laws about lawsuits. It’s like having the fox guarding the hen house, it does not help anyone except the fox.

  • I have read both the story and the comments. Some say to countersue. Ok, do any of you realize that the only business to get all the business (money) here is the law? Either way, the court, police, lawyers, judges, and staff are paid. THAT is why the system is so big, why we have so many laws. How do you ever expect the fox to guard the henhouse? We will never get justice until some revolution/disaster happens (God forbid) and everything is set back to zero.

  • Why isn’t the individual prosecuted for filing frivolous lawsuits? Or isn’t this against the law? Our politicians have time to regulate the size of soft drinks. How about paying attention to real problems.

  • This article really comes across as “anti-Latino”, but what’s new about that? You can’t even criticize the President without being labeled a racist.
    But the suit itself has nothing to do with their ethnicity. The few people who file these lawsuits are scumbag lawyers who submit hundreds to thousands of these ADA lawsuits purely for the $$. One was exposed on 60 minutes a couple of years ago, and he has made millions filing these suits, which are usually settled out of court because the settlement is cheaper than fighting them in the courts. The answer to this is simple, but the Lawyer PAC’s fight tooth and nail for this simple fix not to see the light of day…. The loser pays the winners legal fee’s… Simple as that. Then, they will think twice before filing these frivolous lawsuits because 99% of the time, they would be the ones paying out the big $$, instead of collecting “shakedown” out of court settlement payoffs! And if lawyers were largely decent people, they would fight for this change rather than making all of these “but what about the legitimate cases” BS defense…

  • I’m not a lawyer living off legal conflict, so my view is different. Why is a lawsuit the first step?. Why isn’t there an official notice requesting compliance or an explanation first? If compliance is refused, then sue. There are hundreds of laws and they are confusing. Many well-intentioned businesses are not bad actors, just uninformed.

  • The legal system encourages and thrives on the number of civil suits filed. Remember, judges are still lawyers. Why would they enforce a law reducing their fellow lawyers income? The system is rigged against honest people and must be forced to change. If this means throwing out judges and starting over with proper laws in place, so be it.

  • Many asked why a counter suit of this obvious abuser was not brought. The odds are the plaintiff is broke and judgment proof. What they should do is seek an injunction against him filing other suits without review and approval of the court.

  • It is very obvious from reading the above comments that most of the responders are either businessmen or lawyers,both having “skin in the game”. I am a retired State Trooper with years of criminal investigation experience and have witnessed numerous lawsuits, fortunately, never having been involved in one except as a witness. I will give you one as an example. A car load of people, drinking, made an illegal U-turn in front of a tractor trailer. I had previously reported to the appropriate jurisdiction that the pole holding the light had been hit and was leaning, therefore, I was dispatched to check and time the light involved, which, on it’s crooked pole was working properly and in view. In court, the State’s answer was to pay the suit as it was the cheapest way out. Hogwash, I have a better way. Require the “Victim” to post twice the amount of the suit and if he loses, the defendant gets the money. Of course the lawyers say this would penalize the poor. Hogwash again, the lawyers would take the cases they know are winners and would fund them accordingly. As far as the businesses, the vast majority are either in compliance or trying to be there, the remainder of them need sued. Tort reform is the only way to go!
    Good luck though as the majority of legislators are lawyers.

  • I am a lawyer and It is amazing that people want the district attorney to charge the plaintiff in this case with a crime, yet in case after case people break safety rules driving cars or maintaining property and thereby hurt people — but we don’t hear the same call for arrest and prosecution of these rule breakers. The system worked for this case. The case was promptly thrown out. What will stop drunks, rule breakers and cutthroat businesses from hurting people if not the deterrent of having to make up for the harm they cause when they break rules? The Chamber of Commerce doesn’t represents small business. That is a completely different organization. The group that runs this website is funded by insurance companies and giant corporations.

  • Who wins? I hate to say it, but the legal system has set the rules to encourage the liars.

    We had an instance where a customer owed us over $20,000.00 and we were advised by a personal friend who just happens to be a lawyer, to just eat the amount, because, “by the time you get done suing, you will have spent more than that to get your money.”

    At one time in the U.S., if someone sued another, they had better have a very good reason for doing so, because if it was found that they were suing frivolously, and lost, they had to pay all–that’s ALL–the costs. Both sides. The person they were suing paid nothing. Now that really discouraged people from suing needlessly or dishonestly.

    Who wins, every time..no matter which way it goes? The lawyers. Period. No contest.

    That’s why the word “lawyer” has such a bad reputation, is made fun of and skoffed at. That’s too bad for the good, truly reputable ones….both of them.

  • The problem is that the way California administers the ADA rules you can never be compliant. I have seen buildings have to tear out bathroom floors because the counter is 1/8″ to high. I have seen complaints that a handicap ramp was 0.001 thousands of a degree to steep.

  • I went to a “Town Hall Meeting” of my congressman wanting to ask just about tort reform. I was never recognized. However, there was an older gentleman who was recognized and who presented a list of four or five issues one of which was tort reform. The Representative gave answers to each except the tort reform one.
    To it he simply said, “There’s nothing we can do about that” and moved to the next issue.

  • Well, so much for keeping this site bookmarked, as I refuse to participate with any group that is biased one way or the other.
    And after apparently refusing to post my previous post, which simply and politely stated that the story above seemed to be insinuating a racial component, which I know had NOTHING to do with this lawsuit, shows me that openness, honesty, and value of opinion from ALL sides is of no value to you, which makes this site of no value to me.
    If I want biased, one-sided information, I can simply go to the Huffington Post, or tune into MSNBC.
    Now if I could only bet that THIS post won’t make it either.
    But at least someone will have to read it before dumping it.
    “One person at a time, CAN make a difference”

  • It’s hilarious how all the plaintiff attorneys are trolling this site to try and discredit the cases here and justify the scurrilous actions of some of their fellow practitioners. Yes, liability claims and ADA enforcement is important and justified, but don’t sit here and slam the restaurant for a non-existing violation (read the details). And retaining an attorney at $300/hour is often way outside the budget of a fledgling business–get real!

  • I’m glad I found this website, although it’s a shame that it’s necessary to have it. The amount of frivilous, costly, damaging lawsuits is absurd, as our the plaintiffs & their attorneys!
    Thankfully Jaime & Ramiro were able to quash the fraudulent case! I wish there had been some sort of recourse against the jerk & his jerk lawyer! I hope La Casita Mexicana has been a success! 🙂
    (btw-#45 commentor doesn’t even make sense! Hopefully he isn’t always that awful!)

  • No one thought to depose the plaintiff, under oath, and then prosecute for perjury if the plaintiff falsely claimed to have visited the place?

    The restaurant did not seek compensation for the tort of a frivolous lawsuit, or ask the court to0 sanction the plaintiff for abuse of process?

  • This type of abuse happens ALOT, we receive class action suits to join all the time. If you are disabled they will include you all the time. A woman in the East Bay sued Your Lorqdships restaurant for lifting her wheelchair up two steps ( inside to a room). She got 500,000. This woman is filthy rich and uses every possible government handout. The rich disabled receive more favors, and it is a real slap to the ones who worry about having 2000. Or more in the bank…the rich set it up in trusts. If the poor received more I would be all for it, but a lot of these laws only benefit the rich disabled