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Legislature changes only thing to help with ADA lawsuits, business owner says

Auburn businesses have received $12,500 settlement demand, attorney says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Local business owners and a Sacramento-based grassroots organization are hoping to stop lawsuit abuse. The California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, or CALA, held a meeting on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday morning to share the results of a statewide survey, which asked several questions about business in the state and what respondents thought about lawsuit abuse and reform. 600 residents in California responded to the survey, which was posted on CALA’s website. This comes after a number of Americans with Disabilities Act non-compliance lawsuits throughout the state have been filed against small local businesses, including several in Auburn. According to the survey, 48 percent of those who participated in Northern California thought personal injury lawyers benefit most from lawsuits for things such as ADA non-compliance. Forty percent believed those looking for a way to win money benefited most, 10 percent believed those being protected by the law benefited and none believed injured people benefit. Travis Hausauer, co-chair of the statewide advisory council for CALA and owner of the Squeeze Inn restaurant in Sacramento, was sued two times in 2009. Hausauer eventually had to move his restaurant from Fruitridge Road to Power Inn Road because he couldn’t afford to make the necessary ADA changes or fight the lawsuit. Hausauer said CALA took the survey to see what the attitude of voters was on the issue. He said the survey results seem to show that citizens want reform, actual changes of law seem to get caught up in partisan battles, such as the recent Senate Bill 783, which failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee July 5. “The only way (the survey results) will help is if we actually make some changes in our Legislature, and that is all we can hope for,” he said. “We know what the public attitude is, so we just need to keep pressure on our legislators. I wish every party could just look at what’s best for the country and best for the state, and let’s pass that. That would be great if we lived in that kind of world, but we don’t.” Hausauer said he had to settle in the first of his two lawsuits, and when the second one hit, he and his wife just decided to move. He spent $250,000 to open the new restaurant. “Because of these ADA lawsuits and individuals not looking to work with people, we are losing all our nice historic restaurants,” Hausauer said. Hausauer said he thinks a group like CALA is important because it keeps information flowing about possible reform. “I think without organizations like them, what happens is we just forget about what’s going on,” he said. “A lot of times what happens is if it doesn’t happen to us or a friend of ours, we don’t care about it. Someone has got to be out there representing the little person, and that’s what they do.” Hausauer said he thinks businesses need to be proactive and not wait until they get sued to make sure their businesses are compliant. Larry Taylor, owner of Pet Xing in Auburn, is currently involved in a lawsuit with Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson for ADA non-compliance. Johnson is also suing Lou La Bonte’s and Millenium Smoke Shop in the same complex. Taylor said he hadn’t heard about the CALA meeting or survey Tuesday, but he was in support of the movement. “If they are trying to fight against the frivolous lawsuits, I’m all for it, because it is getting ridiculous,” Taylor said. “I think it’s one of those things that’s being taken advantage of.” Judi La Bonte, owner of Lou La Bonte’s, said she would like representatives from CALA to meet with businesses in Auburn to discuss what was talked about at the meeting and how Auburn businesses can get in touch with others who are experiencing the same situations. “There are a lot of people interested, and there are a lot of people that would like to see some changes made in how you go about implementing these things,” La Bonte said. Cris Vaughan, of Loomis, who is representing the three businesses in La Bonte’s complex, said in the next two or three weeks he expects a case scheduled, but said Johnson has named a settlement amount. “The settlement demand is $12,500 and while it doesn’t say specifically, I assume that is a global demand for all three of the defendants,” Vaughan said. Vaughan said every week in federal court in Sacramento, there are about six to 12 ADA non-compliance lawsuits issued. “Part of the problem with this area of law is the business will want to comply, but doesn’t have the expertise or knowledge to comply,” Vaughan said. “And therefore, when they even get a letter … they have to spend money to figure out what’s wrong with the property.” Pete Aroz Sr., owner of Pistol Pete’s in Auburn, said Johnson has currently asked for more time in the counter lawsuit Aroz filed against him after Johnson filed an initial ADA non-compliance lawsuit against Pistol Pete’s. Aroz said he thinks a group like CALA is important in getting the word to legislators. “I think it’s great, and I think we need more of this, and we need more participation,” he said. “And I would be willing to financially support something like that, too. This is what it’s going to take. We have got to get to these lawmakers and say, ‘What this guy is doing is wrong.’” Michelle Davis, an Auburn-based architect and certified handicap access specialist, said she does think society benefits from the ADA law, because it gives access to those who might otherwise be left out. Davis said she thinks groups like CALA inspiring more conversation about the topic are important. “I think it’s great, because the abusive lawsuits aren’t helping provide more access to any building or facility,” she said. “It’s just money going into somebody’s pocket that could be spent on actually operating the building. And anything that helps raise awareness to business owners that they really do need to upgrade their businesses, that’s going to be a good thing, too.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com