Chamber Cheers Reform for Disability Laws

The Culver City Chamber of Commerce today applauded Governor Jerry Brown’s signature of Senate Bill 1186 – a measure to protect California businesses from predatory legal action while improving access for members of the disabled community. With his signature, the measure is now California law.

This bipartisan effort co-authored by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Bob Dutton (R-Inland Empire) becomes law immediately upon the Governor’s signature, as both houses of the Legislature passed the bill with overwhelming support as an urgency measure.

“We are pleased to have played a leading role in fighting for passage of this bill, which stops unscrupulous attorneys from drowning business owners in legal paperwork, while not solving the underlying issue of access for the disabled,” said Chamber Chairman Goran Eriksson, who added that many Culver City businesses have been the victim of “demand for money letters.”

The bill brings reform to the state’s disability access law by prohibiting “demand for money” letters, where attorneys target businesses with alleged minor access violations and demand a quick monetary settlement in lieu of a more expensive lawsuit or fixing the problem to improve access. Among other provisions, the bill prevents attorneys from “stacking” multiple claims for the same alleged violation in order to increase monetary awards, while it also reduces statutory damages for businesses that fix unintentional violations within 30 to 60 days.

“The whole point of our state and federal disability access laws is to remove barriers for the disabled, giving them full and equal access to businesses like everyone else. Up until now unfortunately, it was often cheaper and quicker for business owners to settle out of court than to remove those obstacles,” said Steinberg. “SB 1186 will instead provide more incentives to fix the violations and enhance accessibility. After many months of working with business and disability rights advocates, this compromise applies common sense to difficult issues.”

While the new law prohibits demand letters asking for money or offers to settle, an attorney with a claim for damages can still send a letter to a business pointing out the alleged violation and advise the owner and/or tenant they “may be civilly liable for actual and statutory damages for a violation of the construction-related accessibility requirement.” Any complaint must also specify the alleged barrier with the date and manner in which it denied access to a person with a disability.

“The law created by SB 1186 will benefit both business owners, who will no longer be subject to these questionable legal tactics; and the disabled, who will see improved access to businesses,” said Chamber President Steven J. Rose.

In addition, SB 1186 makes a distinction between intentional and unintentional violations. While a business or property owner would be eligible for reduced damages if the violation is unintentional and is fixed within the statutory time frame, the law preserves the full statutory damages liability for intentional violations.

The urgency measure passed the State Senate 34 to 3, and passed the State Assembly by a vote of 77 to 0.

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