ADA Vultures Hit Central Valley Hoteliers

by Alison Samarin.  California business owners already know it’s tough doing business in this state.   Restaurants, retail stores, businesses and and other public accommodations have long complained of being the target of ADA “shake-down” lawsuits from serial plaintiffs.

One Arizona woman has now begun targeting local hotels.  Teresa Brooke, a wheelchair-bound woman, recently filed lawsuits against more than 100 California hotels, many in the Central Valley, with lawsuits for failing to provide wheelchair pool lifts.  Her method is simple: from the comfort of her desk in Arizona, she calls a hotel and asks if it has a wheelchair-accessible lift for its pool or spa.  If the answer it ‘no,’ she sends a representative to take a few photos, then files a lawsuit, alleging she intended to come to town for a personal or business trip but couldn’t stay at the hotel because it was inaccessible to her.  She then repeats this process over, and over, and over.  She and her attorney, Peter Strojnik, have already filed over one hundred lawsuits in Arizona.  They now have set their sights on the Golden State with all of its hotels..  She never even stays at the hotel or books a reservation.

Hoteliers nationwide have long been dreading full implementation of the pool-lift regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA requires hotels with pools built after March 15, 2012 to provide wheelchair access to those pools. For older pools (those built before March 15, 2012), they typically have to make the pools wheelchair accessible when it is “readily achievable.”  In other words, hotels must retrofit the pool lifts when it is easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense.  And having a lift alone is not enough.  The lifts must be placed correctly, always functional, with fully-charged batteries.  Compliance also has its own risks that must be managed. Some hoteliers have reported that the lifts are attractive to children tempted to climb or play on them, increasing risk of injury and, of course, insurance costs.

The lawsuits hitting Central Valley hoteliers in the last few months are focused on the issue of pool-lifts, but plaintiffs can use the lawsuits to go on a fishing expedition for other potential ADA violations.  Settling quickly with a plaintiff like Ms. Brooke may end the immediate threat, but it will not prevent other serial plaintiffs from suing as well until compliance is achieved.  Hotel owners should consult with an experienced attorney both before and after they’ve been targeted.  There are ways to avoid these suits as well as to win in cases like this without substantial expense.

Alison Samarin is an associate attorney with Fishman, Larsen & Callister in Fresno, California.  She has significant experience litigating cases throughout California.  She may be reached at: 559.256.5000 or samarin@flclaw.net.