“Thousands of lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but many business owners say they’re nothing more than a shakedown,” begins a recent CBS 60 Minutes report.

ADA ‘Access’ laws were meant to require businesses to provide reasonable access to disabled people. Critics charge they are being abused by unscrupulous attorneys who find disabled accomplices willing to initiate lawsuits against small business owners for failing to comply with ADA access requirements.  The business owners usually settle ‘out-of-court’ for thousands of dollars, and the attorneys pay the defendants a lesser portion of the amount; many times the plaintiffs aren’t even customers of the business being sued.  Some attorneys have made millions from the practice, referred to as ‘drive by’ lawsuits, and this abuse is costing business owners millions of dollars.

One of the architects of the Department of Labor’s ADA laws, John Wodatch, agrees.  Said Wodatch in the 60 Minutes story, “there are some people who are engaging in what some people call ‘shakedowns’ or ‘frivolous lawsuits’ where they are not really looking at change for people with disabilities; they are really more interested in making money.”

The recent CBS report, hosted by Anderson Cooper, details the story of one power couple that is being sued by the disabled plaintiffs they helped recruit.  Daniel Delgado and John Morales say they were used to help the attorneys profit from the ADA compliance laws, while being led to believe it was all about helping disabled individuals.

According to the report:

One couple filed more than 1,000 lawsuits related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and have earned, by our estimate, at least $3 million doing so. They are now being sued by Daniel Delgado and John Morales for fraud. Both men say, while the lawsuits did improve access for the disabled, they have also made some business owners wary of dealing with disabled customers.

Anderson Cooper: You think, John, this is having a negative effect.

John Morales: Yes.

Anderson Cooper: On businesses’ perception of disabled people?

Daniel Delgado and John Morales: Yes.

John Morales: And so instead of us doing a good thing, I felt like because of the advantage they took on us, coming against all these businesses, we did more harm than good.

Because of the rapid rise of these ‘drive by’ ADA lawsuits, reports Lexology, many states, like California and Colorado, are enacting State Legislation Aimed at Curbing ‘Drive By’ Lawsuits and Service Animal Fraud, and last week the Arizona attorney general’s office filed a motion to dismiss 1,700 ADA lawsuits.  However, the number of lawsuits nationally is growing, and only a few states have legislation that protects small business owners.  In the meantime, ADA ‘access’ lawsuits are leeching into new areas.

According to a November report in Lexology, online websites are becoming the focus of new ADA ‘access’ suits.

Since early 2015, approximately 240 lawsuits have been filed by a handful of plaintiffs’ firms against companies in the retail, hospitality, and financial services industries alleging ADA violations related to website accessibility.

ADA ‘access’ compliance lawsuits will continue to grow until more states confront the problem.  In the meantime, you can review this article to see if your company violates website ADA ‘Access’ requirements, and you can contact eESI to learn how you can protect your company.