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When Roberto Guerrero and his family emigrated from war-torn Nicaragua in the 1980s, they hoped to share their family’s love of coffee with the residents of San Francisco. Starting with one store in 1987, members of the family opened several coffee shops in the Bay Area, including two Cumaica Coffee stores owned by Roberto.

Roberto loves the city of San Francisco and its coffee-loving residents. “San Francisco has been very generous,” he said. “It’s where the doors of opportunity are opened” for first-generation immigrants like himself. Unfortunately, California’s version of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has created doors of opportunity for plaintiffs’ lawyers to target small businesses like Roberto’s.

It began when Roberto received a letter from a customer who claimed that certain features in Roberto’s store violated the ADA. All were minor violations such as a recycling bin placed too close to a door and a pastry case located too close to a counter. Roberto did not realize his store was in violation of the ADA but quickly made the requested changes and notified the customer.

The customer acknowledged that Roberto made the requested changes yet sued anyway and sought nearly $90,000 in damages. Unlike in most states, California law authorizes monetary damages in ADA cases, which incentivizes enterprising plaintiffs and their lawyers to bring lawsuits for even minor ADA violations. The law also provides for damages of up to $4,000 for each and every visit to a non-compliant business, encouraging plaintiffs to not report problems and instead repeatedly visit a business in order to claim greater payouts.

Roberto was shocked by the lawsuit and even invited the plaintiff and his attorney to see for themselves that the violations were corrected. The plaintiffs’ lawyer conceded that Roberto’s store was in compliance, but said it was too late to avoid the lawsuit. After about a year of litigation, Roberto settled the lawsuit.

But Roberto wasn’t the only small business owner targeted. At least 16 neighboring businesses were also sued by the same plaintiff. Two of them were forced to close. The plaintiff’s attorney claims to have filed 2,000 ADA lawsuits in California on behalf of several serial plaintiffs.

Roberto is angry about these lawsuits and the effect they have on businesses and the neighboring community. “These types of lawsuits highly abuse the law,” he said. “They affect an entire community, not just one business.”

50 comments

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  • This is exactly the kind of thing you dont need in a bad economy, with people struggling to make ends meet and support their employees in the process.

    ADA laws should not promise monetary benefits, rather it should support only improvement of services to the disabled.

  • The state should take a look at this lawyer & his practice. Disbarment would be a nice solution. Then CHANGE THE LAW! Compliance = NO LAWSUIT!
    Serial plaintiffs SHOULD BE BARRED from further suits.

  • Does California have Vexatious Litigant laws? If so, they should be slapped on the jerk. Basically would mean he’d have to get a judge’s approval to launch lawsuits, therefore a chance to stop this jerk in his tracks.

    And that “per visit” rule should be changed that a visit only counts if the plaintiff has notified the defendant, each time. So that would have capped his suit at $4,000

  • I am an attorney that has handled defending small businesses sued by “bottom feeder-attorneys. The cure is ridiculously simple; Plainitffs claiming ADA violations should first deliver a notice to the targeted business allowing the business owner to come into compliance (30 or 60 days BEFORE a lawsuit can be filed — Write your congressman.

  • Sounds like this idiot and the idiot lawyer are making their living filing ADA lawsuits. I agree that ADA lawsuits should NOT award money but only require coming into compliance. That will quickly stop all these lawsuits and probably mean the person that is the plaintiff will have find some new sources of income.

  • Bottomfeeder lawyers give the rest of the lawyers a bad name. Can’t something be done about them ?
    When a business has complied to the ADA demands (which are usually a prcurser to a law suit) the judge should just throw it and the plainiff aka the wiener out of court.

  • This just shows that California is ‘LOONY.’ They may have been the first to recongnize ADA, before the rest of the country as one writter said. But the Town Government should handle this or the County Government could step, and, should step in and change the Laws for Businsses and small Businesses. This is a good example of ENTITLEMENT. We as Americans have forgotten the meaning of getting your hands dirty, rolling up your sleeves and taking care of your family, as well as yourself!! What happened to COURTESY. No one wants to open their mouth when they see something wrong, This Businessman, worked hard to build his business, support his family, and seek the American Dream, to be proud of what you’ve done. Then, to have some a KNUCKLE-HEAD, come into your business, and tell you you must change things to have acessable for people with disabilities (the article didn’t say what the disability was, wheelchair, cane, blind,etc.) I’m not going to assume anything. But, this person caused other businesses to close. Sounds like a habitual business closer only looking out for him/or herself. I know that San Francisco actually has ‘DRAG-RACES,’ but are the people of San Fran, so scared of Feinstein and Pelosi, that they can’t get either of them to make a change? This is just baffilling to me…

  • another reason we site to clients thinking of expanding into the USA hoping they will not do so. Our legal system, like all, needs improvement, but the USA, and in particular California, reduces growth and jobs because it is a major fear factor. Also another reason you pay 10 times the premiums for far less coverage that we do in Canada, and most of our domestic markets exclude coverage in the US

  • @Daniel H —
    California does not pride itself on equality, it prides itself on punishing anyone who is not a member of certain protected classes of individuals. This would only count as a (very sad) form of equality if they only went so far as squashing every exception down to the level of the lowest common denominator, but they don’t stop at “level in the muck”, non-protected individuals must be further subdued, just in case they might possibly do something in offense of the protected.

  • There are angry handicapped people out there that spend their time LOOKING for any excuse to sue.
    I was with a small local renn faire troupe and when we put on our annual faire, there was ONE person in a wheelchair that complained, so by the next day, we had to have laid out a path made of those jigsaw puzzle type tiles to insure that he could roll his chair, but he threw a fit anyway. The park is as wheelchair accessible as possible to begin with and no other faire has had this kind of problem before.
    Special consideration for more than one is one thing, but having to jump through hoops for just one person that was trying to create a lawsuit is another. They only help the individual bringing the suit and their lawyer, not the community as a whole.

  • Daniel H – that’s from 3 years ago. What was the result? As far as I’ve been able to determine, Tom Francovich basically got tapped on the pinkie in the state ethics violation investigation, and is still at it. I’m not sure this counts much as ‘doing something about it’.

  • And now these idiots in Ca are moving into and trying to destroy other parts of the country.

    Do they really not understand what is causing so many problems?

  • This is crazy. It’s very simple — if the business doesn’t fix it then and only then they could be sued. When the business is inspected by the health department why can’t they tell the business they are not complying with the ADA laws. I think that these people just go business to business looking for a lawsuit. They probably don’t even go to the business normally. it’s sad that an attorney is so willing to take cases. i am disabled and i have only complained twice and the place fixed it. sueing them never even crossed my mind. the fact that he still sued says it all it was never about making it easier for him to go there it was about hey yeah!!!! free money for me. what a mean horrible person they are. it makes me sad that people and the attorney are allowed to get away with this. maybe i should go to california i need some money. not!!!

  • The Ca judicial system is cracked. It does not serve the people (tax payers) however it does serve the attorneys and the state employees of the legal system. That being said, I also think a lot of people including lawyers are trying to make up for lost income due to our economy. A friend of mine owns a business and has become a victim to customers looking to make settlement money from bogus lawsuit. They are asking for insane amounts (6 figures/pain and suffering) in hopes of a settlement? The attorney representing them knows it will cost over 60k to prove the innocence of my friend. This almost forces the party being sued to settle even though they would be found free of any wrong doings in court. It all gets down to MONEY$. In regards to my friend’s situation, the people making the false claim (represented by an attorney) have exhausted their unemployment, and are currently unemployed! As I see it, their attorney is their accomplice in all of this Fraud! I honestly believe that the attorneys are at fault here and the attorneys that represent these bogus lawsuits should have to pay the cost incurred by the victims, fined and disbarred! This is all a big scam and we are all paying for it!

  • Californians demand too much control from the government and then comes the TRASH that abuse the laws for their own gain. Regulations as minor as these being sued over shows the ethics of the people doing these lawsuits, that being they are less ethical than the most corrupt of politicians.

  • I heard of a person going around the state (CA) several years ago, filing these kinds of lawsuits against businesses that weren’t in full compliance with the ADA. According to the person who told me of this abuse (a building official who had to deal with the bozo, and provide plans for “research” into the violations), the person was in a wheelchair, and worked in concert with a lawyer, filing a half dozen suits in the local area, before moving on to a new location. They had been in this area several years before, and done the same thing at the time. It helped me calm clients who balked at the extent and cost of ADA “improvements” to their buildings. After explaining how they could be dragged into court, need to hire an attorney, AND lose, they quickly came around, urging me to “be sure” to get everything just right!

  • The reason that California doesn’t consider ADA violations to be “fix-it tickets” is that they believe disabled persons should not have to ask. Non-disabled persons can use the facilities to the fullest without needing special accomodation; why should disabled persons have to beg and plead to get the level of service that everyone else gets as a matter of course?

    The problem is, though, that disabled persons can have such a wide variety of requirements and needs that it’s impossible to anticipate them all in advance–and some disabled persons figure that if they can hack it then they don’t need help. One person might be willing to reach up from their wheelchair and stretch to get the ketchup off the counter, but another might find that totally impossible–and, because of that latter person, the restaurant isn’t ADA compliant and can be sued.

  • Last year I was the victim of one of these “drive by” disabled persons. I had handicapped parking and thought I was compliant but wasn’t. The man who sued me never attempted parking but, knowing all the rules, could see from the street that I was not complient. This “drive by” extortionist filed 16 lawsuits the same day. I immediatly called the city I am located in and later two adjoining cities to obtain the proper rules governing Handicapped Parking but since ADA is FEDERAL none of the CITIES contacted could help me. I eventually contacted a CASP licensed person who charged me $1000.00 just to give me a report on what was required to become complient! I still had to pay almost $10,000 to move the parking and provide signage PLUS the cost of setteling with the extortionist for violating his Civil Rights! It is a rip off. No question about it. I agree, in part, with the attorney who posted some time ago. The answer is simple: Give the property owner 60 days to become complient before any damages are awarded. In addition the city officials should take a more active part and have the information regarding requirements to hand out to property owners/businesses who make inquiry. I guarentee the building inspector who came out to pass the completed project knew what was required I should not have had to pay $1000.00 for that information. I have written to my two local officials Feinstein & Boxer (they are the two who do not want to make this a “fix it” ticket” and advised them that in my opini on they are as guilty as the “drive by” extortionist, their attorneys and the ADA.

  • I am a a person with multiple disabilities who believes that” society” (business places, etc) is not automatically ‘ responsible’ for SOME of the challenges that come with disabilities including deafness(deafness is considered “normal” and is not viewed as a disability according to Deaf culture activists). Should a 30 years old adult deaf person with the intelligence of a non-deaf 5 years old be allowed to sue for vocabularies he/she does not understand even if sign language is used?

  • Apparently the attorneys here do not know anything about discrimination or disability law. Tell an African American that he has to ride in the back of the bus for 30 days before filing complaint? That’s absurd. Health regulations, insurance and licensing requirements, fire regulations, building codes and ADA compliance, all part of owning and operating a business. If you cannot be legal go home. If you want to run a legal business, be legal and stop whining. We advocate for compliant businesses, and have for twenty years. Lawyers will always waste time and charge fees instead of being part of the solution. The only good defense attorney will tell you to be 100% compliant before you get sued…its a no brainer

  • Cathy, why didnt you get on the internet and punch in ADA requirements, the DOJ website will come up, The ADA ABA ADAAG are all written in laypersons terms. There is tax credit and tax relief for the businesses who desire to become compliant. If a business really want to comply, than comply. It too easy to just whine and pay too much money to bogus CASp inspectors and attorneys and unscrupulous plaintiffs. Id I had one dollar for every business we’ve tried to help for no charge Id be able to retire ten times over. We advocate for the businesses but they have to want to comply to save themselves from having to pay the penalty for not following the law.

  • Back when the country was right, the palintiff would be standing (or Sitting ) in the street with his opponent 20 paces away for a shootout.

  • Government should not have the right to require any business man to accomodate any type customer. It is the business owner’s responsibility to make the business successful. It should be his decision alone, how much he is willing to invest in facilities to accomodate his business. The customer always has the right to shop elsewhere or open his own business if he wants to address his customers in a different way. Government has an obligation to see that the business man does not defraud his custormers or subjects them unforseen or probable harm. Otherwise, let competition control where people shop.

  • The ADA and the Clean Air Act of 1990 are two of the worst written pieces of legislation ever passed in this country- both are overly broad, ambigious, and overreaching. Both should be overturned ASAP and replaced with more focused common sense legislation that does NOT simply provide opportunities for under-employed barristers.

  • They should change the law to require and post a yearly ADA inspection, if you pass you cannot be sued. Of course this would mean a new regulation and put lawyers out of work.

  • Daniel H – Yep, that worked a treat:

    “He owns one home in the tony Marin County town of Tiburon. Then there’s the house and condo in Mazatlán, Mexico, and the century-old Victorian-style building in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow that he sold in 2008 for $2.2 million. He also owns two ranches in Tehama County, where he keeps a herd of 140 bison.”

    http://www.callawyer.com/clstory.cfm?eid=919801

  • I’m sorry but the people here saying that no business should have to accommodate disabled people are out of their mind (and obviously are not nor have ever been disabled themselves.)

    While I believe what the plaintiff did was far out of line and that since the corrections were made the case should been thrown out. It is absolutely preposterous that a disabled person should have to go from business to business to figure out which one they can use and will accommodate them. People who don’t have a disability can’t imagine the struggles people who do have on a daily basis, why make it more difficult to access for goods and services they need on a daily basis. Also, ADA requirements aren’t simply for customers they are also for current and future employees. This lawsuit is frivolous but one brought by someone was discriminated from employment simply because the employer wasn’t ADA compliant would be a MUCH bigger deal.

    Much can be done to rectify this problem other than simply spitting in the face of the disabled (many of who are injured veterans) and saying if you’re disabled I don’t want to accommodate you, find somewhere. Acting like they’re second class citizens.

  • Should at worse be a fine the city collects, in the same regards as a health code violation. There is no way any one should be able to profit due to this. I am glad i do not live in CA seems like a cess pool

  • Wouldn’t it be tragic if the lawyer for the plaintiff ended up in a wheel chair and his client at the bottom of the frisco bay? I’d weep, wouldn’t you?

  • As long as the citizens of California elect left-wing nanny-state politicians, they will get exactly what they voted for.

  • Can I sue this lawyer and his client because I wanted to go to one of the businesses that they caused to close? (And, how much extra money can I get if I try to visit this closed business multiple times?)

  • The intent of ADA is good, but shouldn’t become a way for disabled people and sleazy lawyers to make a profit. Agree that a “fix-it” ticket with a set deadline to make required modifications would minimize profits by “wheel chair chaser” attorneys, and actually give disabled individuals access to services provided by businesses.

  • There’s nothing judicious about our legal system & all involved know it.

    When hiring representation against 2 BS lawsuits, my attorney’s partner told me that the law was not fair – – it was equitable. His statement reminded me of the quote … “The more corrupt the republic, the more numerous the laws.”—Tacitus, Roman historian, 110 CE. One never need wonder why lawyers are universally despised.

  • Apparently, lawyers will only be happy when they bankrupt all businesses and clear out their bank accounts (along with the insurance companies).

    Consumers will continue to see prices of EVERYTHING skyrocket until these abuses are put to an end because retailers, doctors and everyone in between will have to spend a huge portion of their profits on insurance to protect against this kind of nonsense.

  • There is a guy who moved into Streamwood Illinois and started sending non-compliance letters for $5,000 each to businesses to do this very same thing.

  • It is no wonder that lawyers are looked on with less than favorable glances. The 2000+ attorney should be disbarred.

  • Although sympathic to the problems of people covered by ADA, these scams should be against the law or the rules should be changed – this scam that these few people are using should not be allowed!!!!

  • similar cases have taken place in Virginia and Maryland. the plaintiff and their attorney don’t want to reach a reasonable resolution they want to and do make a living off of these suits

  • These lawsuits will continue as long as there are ridiculous laws that permit them and lawyers willing to follow the “buck.”.

  • Anywhere democrats have their way you will see this, it’s just part of the unholy alliance between them and the plaintiff’s lawyers. If it’s not that, then it’s the unions or the illegal aliens or the gay or abortion lobbies cramming their agendas down America’s throat… The donkey logo is completely misleading, just like everything they do. In reality, it should be red horns or 666…

  • This is exactly why lawyers have a reputation of “bottom feeders”. Rather than addressing such issues of frivolous ADA lawsuits the national & States Bar Associations allow this “bottom feeder” reputation to persist. All lawyers ARE NOT BAD BUT TO DO OR SAY NOTHING MSKES THEM PART OF THE PROBLEM if they ARE NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION. You reep what you sew. And the beat goes on. I would have more respect for a prostitute. At least you’re getting what you pay for…….

  • I heard a long time ago from a professor (lawyer) that the ADA was America’s Lottery Ticket for lawyers. The law needs to be amended to the point where this cannot happen.