Chamber Presses For Changes To ADA-Compliance Lawsuits

A rash of lawsuits aimed at small businesses have popped up across the state.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce are pressing lawmakers for changes during the next session that would make it harder for people filing disability-access lawsuits against businesses to claim damages.
 
The move comes after a lawyer with ties to the Disability Support Alliance, a Twin Cities-based group, has filed over 100 Americans with Disabilities Act-related lawsuits to small shops and restaurants throughout the state without giving them any notice to correct the issues. Nearly all of them settle out of court.
 
Proposals put forth by the Chamber include a 90-day timeline to make smaller fixes like putting in a ramp and a year for larger projects like getting all new furnishings for a restaurant, according to City Pages. The Minnesota Council on Disability is also working with business groups to craft legislation. A spokeswoman for the state organization said they weren’t “interested in making attorneys rich.”
 
In Marshall, FOX 9 reports that 15 small businesses have been hit for relatively small infractions, including wheelchair ramps too steep by one degree or a Dairy Queen that was remodeling with handicapped-accessible tables, but not before the lawsuit came.
 
Paul Hansmeier, a lawyer with a colorful history, is the attorney behind the suits. FOX 9 said that he was once a partner at Prenda Law, which placed pornographic videos on file-sharing sites and then threatened people who downloaded them with lawsuits or public exposure. Federal judges later shut down the scheme.
 
Amy Rowland, owner of the Bulldog NE in Minneapolis, said Hansmeier slapped her business with an ADA lawsuit for not having low tables in the front room, which would constitute discrimination. Rowland said her business was compliant with ADA and had low tables in the front room of her restaurant too. While she tried to fight the suit—and filed an ethical violation against him—she says her lawyer fees became too high and later settled for $10,000.
 
“It’s all about making money for him,” Rowland said. “Somebody just needs to put a stop to his behavior.”
 
When City Pages asked Hansmeier about the lawsuits, he said he only sues business when they don’t respond to the initial letter sent out and that they are given time to upgrade their facilities.