After a spate of lawsuits filed against local businesses because of alleged lack of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Brent Hipsher of 4Leaf, Inc. on March 15 counseled Hollister business owners about those compliance standards.
The meeting, hosted by the city of Hollister at City Hall, was precipitated in part, according to Hollister Planning Manager Abraham Prado, by of new businesses coming into the city, and to refresh the current businesses on any recent changes in law.
The recent spate of lawsuits, according to Hipsher, is happening because, “There are people looking for non-compliance for litigation to put money into their pockets,” he warned. To expedite compliance, he recommended that business owners hire a certified CASp (Certified Access Specialist) to help determine if their facility is access-compliant, as well as receive a litigation benefit.
The theme of the evening meeting was don’t rely on common misconceptions, but be certain a business properties are in compliance with ADA.
According to Hipsher, CASp inspectors, all of whom have undergone extensive training on accessibility standards, upon inspection, will give business owners a description of the areas inspected, and a determination of the status of compliance.
Further, an inspector will work with the business to establish a reasonable schedule of completion for the necessary corrections.
“The inspector will be there to help you get to the finish line,” Hipsher assured the business owners.
In 1991, President George W. Bush signed the ADA into law, stating that all public buildings must be accessible to those with disabilities. Several amendments have been made since the initial law, and some of those include changes to restroom access, which include strict adherence to dimensions. The details on the restroom standards may be downloaded from www.ADA.gov, along with other required compliance issues.
Other areas of accessibility concerns centered around older buildings, including those listed in a registry of historical facilities.
“Older buildings (built) before 1991 cannot be grandfathered in,” Hipsher said. Bringing a building into compliance does not require a total renovation, but rather the construction of an alternate access to the disabled public.
“Most of the litigations are from those who cannot get into the building,” said Hipsher. For example, the dimensions and weight of a door when opening it, as well as door handles, must meet specifications, he said.
Hipsher said the codes cover issues such as accessibility and approach from a parking lot a building. Also, restrooms, whether they are labeled public or private, must be ADA-compliant, according to the code.
There are barriers that can be removed by a business owner to lower the expense of necessary changes. A few of those listed were: displaying disabled signage, changing door handles, achieving a clear path to the door, identification for disabled signage on tables inside a restaurant, reserving seats for the disabled customer, and automatic door installation.
“To do as much as you can do not only saves you money, it takes the (litigation) radar off of your business,” Hipsher stated.
According to the ADA, there are tax benefits from $5,000 to $15,000, based on size of business, for bringing a building into compliance. For tax information, go to: www.ada.gov/taxincent.htm.
Another benefit for a group of business owners can be achieved by lining up several owners to hire a CASp inspector to share in the cost of inspection and to plan a schedule that demonstrates an intent to follow the law and be in compliance.
To hire a CASp inspector go to www.dgs.ca.gov/casp.
According to material made available by the City of Hollister, removal of a barrier could cost $4,000, while settling a lawsuit may cost $30,000. It also states that the California Restaurant Association and, particularly, hospitality businesses, continue to be the target of litigation.
With that in mind, Gilroy attorney Joseph P. Thompson, showed what a summons for a lawsuit looks like and encouraged the business owners to never ignore it if they ever get such a notice.
Thompson provided the following website to help a business owner find the right lawyer if a summons has been served: www.calbar.org. This may be downloaded in English and Spanish.