'Drive-By Lawsuits' Targeted in Bid to Reform Disabilities Law

By Alexa Moutevelis | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Two Florida congressmen Thursday reintroduced legislation that they say will help put an end to frivolous lawsuits related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"The hijacking of the ADA must end," stated U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, who submitted the bill with his Florida Republican colleague, Rep. Clay Shaw. "Too many lawyers view ADA lawsuits as a quick way to become rich and too many small businesses have become their prey. Our legislation can eliminate the drive-by lawsuits and still allow those with disabilities to have their issues resolved."

The ADA Notification Act, which has been introduced during every term of Congress since 1999, requires that before a plaintiff can proceed with a lawsuit, the accused must be given "notice of the alleged violation" and 90 days to fix the problem. If "the defendant has not corrected the alleged violation" by that time, civil action can commence.

But disabilities advocates say the ADA law already grants businesses sufficient time to comply. "The ADA set timelines 15 years ago for the correction of problems," Nancy Starnez, vice president of the National Organization on Disability, told Cybercast News Service .

Shaw responded to this criticism in his press release. "This legislation is not intended to give anyone an extended 'grace period' for failing to do what they should have by now. Our primary goal is to bring as many places into compliance as quickly as possible."

Starnez also complained that the Foley/Shaw legislation "suspends" the civil rights enumerated in the ADA during the 90-day compliance period.

But Jason Kello, communications director for Foley, denied that the bill would violate anyone's civil rights. "Our goal is to allow them to fix the problem so that there's no reason to sue," Kello told Cybercast News Service .

Kello said he's optimistic about the bill's passage this year. If "unscrupulous lawyers find [that] this is a money-making opportunity they blanket a community and a lot of support then follows for this legislation. We continue to find more support each year as we reintroduce it," he said.

Starnez agreed that "a very, very small minority of people" may be abusing the law. But Congress should not be the one regulating it, she added. "The [American] Bar Association should have the ability to police itself against those irresponsible filings.

"While it may cure the problem with a very small minority, I think it's going to hurt far more people with disabilities," Starnez said.

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