Protecting your Business from an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Claim

Chamber of Commerce members should be aware of a rash of recent federal lawsuits brought against local businesses and commercial property owners alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). These lawsuits remind us of the need to comply with often complex ADA regulations and raise important questions about handicap accessibility and compliance with the ADA.

The lawsuits in question have been initiated by a small cadre of disabled individuals in conjunction with the Disability Support Alliance (“DSA”), an organization represented by Minneapolis attorney Paul Hansmeier. The DSA currently has 44 active lawsuits filed in the State of Minnesota, the most recent of which was filed as recently as June 18, 2015. It appears this group is actively seeking out potential ADA violations. Based on court documents, these individuals are attempting to visit a local business and encountering barriers – physical features of buildings and parking lots – that prevent them from fully utilizing the business’s services. The identified barriers have almost exclusively been located on the outside of local businesses, particularly the parking lots and building access ramps.

The ADA regulates nearly every part of a building or facility that is intended for use by the general public. This includes bathrooms, parking lots, doorways, hallways, access ramps, light switches, and swimming pools. The ADA is intended to provide minimum requirements for places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and government facilities so that individuals with disabilities may access and use the facilities on an equal basis.

The ADA applies to places of “public accommodation.” This includes, but is not limited to, hotels, motels, inns, restaurants, bars, theaters, concert halls, stadiums, auditoriums, bakeries, grocery stores, shops, funeral facilities, libraries, museums, daycare centers, spas, and bowling alleys.

The ADA requires that all new construction and renovations comply with specific design standards. The ADA also requires businesses to remove accessibility barriers on an ongoing basis to the extent that it is readily achievable.

The ADA design standards are triggered when a business carries out an alteration of its facilities. An alteration includes remodeling, renovating, rehabilitating, reconstructing, changing or rearranging structural parts or elements, changing or rearranging plan configuration of walls and full-height partitions, or making other changes that affect (or could affect) the usability of the facility. Specific examples of an alteration include restriping a parking lot, moving walls, moving a fixed ATM to another location, installing a new sales counter or display shelves, changing a doorway entrance, replacing fixtures, flooring or carpeting. Normal maintenance, such as reroofing, painting, or wallpapering, is not an alteration.

To avoid being subjected to such lawsuits Chamber members must consult the ADA and incorporate the requirements into buildings and surrounding facilities. The ADA standards are complex and contain exceptions that may require expertise to interpret. The ADA regulations building standards can be found on the Department of Justice’s website: http://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm.

The advice contained herein is not legal advice and is intended only as a brief summary of the general rules applicable to businesses in the Rochester area. For additional information please contact Dunlap & Seeger at 507.288.9111.

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