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Clearing way for access

Seminar tells business owners about the needs of the disabled and how to comply with regulations.

October 17, 2007|By Jeremy Oberstein

MAGNOLIA PARK — Business owners are unaware of many Americans with Disabilities Act regulations and need to take it upon themselves to meet those requirements to avoid lawsuits, an official with the Civil Justice Assn. of California said Monday during a presentation co-sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian.

“It’s difficult to be compliant [with the act] because this is a very dangerous, very litigious world,” said Andy Kotner, local action director for the group that seeks to inform businesses about ways to avoid excessive lawsuits.

Kotner led a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation highlighting six improvements business owners can make to avoid lawsuits resulting from noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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“We want to help improve [the law’s] access and reduce lawsuits resulting from noncompliance,” she said.

The improvements included maintaining handicap-accessible restrooms, updating signs at every parking lot entrance and widening aisles to accommodate wheelchairs.

Businesses should not make the mistake of thinking they are immune to lawsuits, Kotner said.

“It makes no difference if [disabled people] have not complained,” she said. “If your business is not compliant, you can get sued.”

Even if businesses settle the lawsuit, it’s not over, she said.

“It’s up to you to provide access,” she said.

“And each violation carries a $4,000 fine.”

Jim Mason, an attorney who has handled more than 1,000 access lawsuits, was part of the panel.

“The real problem is that most people don’t know about these [access issues] that are required to open a business,” he said. “There is no [Americans with Disabilities Act] police, there is no government enforcement. You need to be proactive and let your [elected] representatives know this is a problem.”

But the problem isn’t one that will be resolved in the California State Assembly, Krekorian said.

"I don’t have a suggestion for what a better enforcement model might be or whether or not local jurisdictions should take [steps] to inform local businesses, but I want to make sure our office devotes effort to provide information," he said.

Krekorian, who spent 20 years as a business lawyer, did say that letters to his office about this issue will not go unread.

“If we hear directly from you, we can find a way to ensure full access in a way that enables you to remain competitive and lets us know how the regulations impact you,” he said.

Nellie Rubin, the human resource manager for Union Adjustment Co., a Burbank-based collection agency, was one of about a dozen business representatives in the audience Monday.

“I didn’t realize that [noncompliance] was enforced by lawsuit,” she said. “It would be very beneficial to have a [government] agency come in and do an inspection of our business.

“But this was very helpful and now I’ve got a lot of homework to do.”


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