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.”