The Americans with Disabilities Act is meant to help those with special needs, but News 5 Investigates has found some people who don’t even have a disability are using the ADA to make money.
In our previous coverage, we aired a story about two people responsible for filing a series controversial ADA-related lawsuits against Colorado businesses.
Santiago Abreu and Mellisa Umphenour filed more than 130 lawsuits since 2015. Business owners say a day or two after being sued, the plaintiff’s or their attorney will call and demand a monetary settlement in order to drop the case.
What can business owners do to avoid being sued?
Many of the violations outlined in lawsuits reviewed by our News 5 Investigates team centered around “minor” violations like accessible signs being a few inches too low or businesses that fail to post “van accessible” parking signs underneath designated accessible spaces.
These are problems that take just a few minutes to fix, but will save you hours in court and thousands of dollars in legal fees!
“I think in many cases, retailers and business owners want to do what’s right,” ADA advocate Mike Tagliapietra said. “They just don’t know what’s right.”
Tagliapietra agreed to meet with us outside the Rocky Mountain ADA Center in Colorado Springs to talk about some of the biggest ADA problems facing the southern Colorado region.
He says business owners need to make sure access aisles in between accessible spaces are flat, especially for people in wheelchairs.
“I’ve had my wheelchair roll away and had to chase it down with my car before,” he said. “Here (at the Rocky Mountain ADA Center parking lot) I can actually get my wheelchair put together on a flat surface and not have to worry.”
Tagliapietra also points out accessible spaces that are too narrow make it extremely difficult for him and other people with disabilities to get in and out of their cars.
“It’s very rare to find a parking lot that is perfectly compliant,” Geoff Ames, executive director of the ADA advocacy group “Meeting the Challenge” said. “You can have everything be compliant and if you forget to put the ‘van accessible’ sign on a space that is van accessible, technically that’s a violation of the ADA.”
According to accessibility laws, a parking lot with 25 spaces or less needs to have on accessible space. That space also needs to be labeled as “van accessible”.
If a parking lot has between 26 and 50 spaces, there must be at least two accessible spaces and one has to be labeled “van accessible.”
You can read about other parking lot requirements here.
Regular accessible spaces must be 13 feet wide. These dimensions include an 8 foot wide space with an access aisle at least 5 feet wide.
Van accessible spaces need to be a total of 16 feet wide. This usually includes an 11 foot space with a 5 foot access aisle. However, Ames said it’s perfectly okay for businesses to have an 8 foot space and 8 foot access aisle too.
Lastly, accessible parking signs need to be at least 5 feet high. Posting it just a few inches too low and some people will sue you over it!
What you need to know about ADA-related lawsuits:
- All business owners we spoke with who have been sued say they never received any notice prior to getting served with a lawsuit.
- If you’ve been served papers, don’t panic!
- The Rocky Mountain ADA says it’s important to review the allegations made in the complaint and dispute any false claims made against your business.
- If you’re unsure of whether the allegations made in the lawsuit are factually correct, contact The Independence Center of Colorado Springs or the Rocky Mountain ADA Center. Both have resources and can put you in contact with an ADA expert who can answer many of your questions.
The Independence Center can be reached at 719-471-8181. The Rocky Mountain ADA Center can be reached at 719-444-0268.
Rachael Stafford with the Rocky Mountain ADA says business owners should be skeptical if the plaintiff or their attorney calls to demand a monetary settlement in order to drop the case.