60 Minutes on ADA Drive-By Lawsuits

On Sunday Anderson Cooper at CBS “60 Minutes” covered one of our favorite issues: the way lawyers and clients sue retail businesses by the dozens or hundreds over defects in ADA accessibility compliance and then cash in the complaints for quick settlements. Actually entering the business is not always necessary: it can be enough to drive around the parking lot spotting technical violations.

South Florida store owner Mike Zayed says “no disabled customer had ever complained about the ramp, the sign, or the parking space,” which failed to comply with ADA specs. Zayed “doesn’t think the person who sued him was a real customer because the man claimed he encountered barriers inside the store that didn’t exist.” And now we’re beginning to see “Google lawsuits” in which the complainant consults online aerial maps to discover, for example, which motel owners haven’t yet installed the pool lifts that federal law recently made obligatory. The same attorney using the same client sued more than 60 defendants in 60 days over lack of pool lifts. “At last count, that attorney has sued nearly 600 businesses in just the last two years, many for not having pool lifts.” [Dec. 4 segment and script; full show here (segment begins 32:47).


  • Over twenty years ago, while I was a house counsel for the now defunct Woolworth stores chain, an activist disabled rights group filed a charge with the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission alleging all stores in the state were not in compliance with the accessibility standards. One of the first demands of the commission was for the locations and addresses of the alleged non compliant stores. It was a bit nonplussed when I told the commission the burden was on the charging party to identify the alleged locations with violations and to specify said violations. The commission insisted the company should provide the information so it could proceed to investigate, despite the patent absurdity of the request. Woolworth closed all stores in the USA in 1995 and ceased violations in the midst of the procedural stand off, so the issue was never resolved.
    (I retired from Woolworth in 1994)
    To me this situation epitomized the unintended pitfalls of an otherwise altruistic statute.

  • “And now we’re beginning to see “Google lawsuits” in which the complainant consults online aerial maps to discover, for example, which motel owners haven’t yet ”

    That will fall flat fast. Aerial photography available on line isn’t current. It’s a minimum of six months out of date.

    • Good luck in most states, though, getting sanctions against an ADA claim on the grounds of insufficiently diligent investigation. More likely, the lawyer will be able to drop the filings found to be in error with no penalty and proceed with the rest.

      • If all they have is six month old or older aerial photography available for free online, there isn’t going to be a rest to proceed with.

        • It won’t matter. These parasite lawyers ask for $5-10k in most cases. They ask for amounts that small for a reason. They do it because the defendant would have to be crazy to actually defend against the case. Their lawyer will tell them that they will burn up $10,000 in just the first month (or less) of fighting this case, so it’s best to just settle. These kinds of cases never even see a judge, a courtroom, or even a deposition.

          • I’m defending one and it probably will get that far. We’ll see/

  • I hope Bob Dole is proud.

  • We’ve got an ADA filing mill outfit in Arizona, but the AG’s office is taking a rather dim view of the practice.


    Why aren’t other states fighting back? What’s different about AZ?

    • An AG with a backbone?