advdisabilities

From the May 2001 Issue

Americans with Disabilities Act
Non-compliance costly to businesses

by Rich Myers

Is your business compliant with regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? It's a topic many businesses ignore until they're hit with a costly lawsuit after someone is injured on their property or simply can't enter their establishment because of barriers. From a legal perspective, it's vitally important for business owners to understand that all businesses--even those in facilities built prior to 1990--are responsible for complying with ADA law. Business owners who are not ADA-compliant face potential litigation not only from injured parties, but also from groups that serve as compliance watchdogs.

ADA History
President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990. ADA guarantees all Americans access to the workplace and the marketplace. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications.

Today, building or expanding any commercial facility without meeting ADA codes is illegal. However, many establishments constructed prior to 1990 have not made the necessary provisions to become ADA- compliant. Many business owners are afraid that the costs of bringing their businesses up to ADA code will be prohibitive, and with no "ADA police" looking for lawbreakers, they don't bother complying with the law. Many of these businesses will make the mistake of becoming ADA-compliant only after losing an expensive lawsuit.

Expensive Mistakes
A Las Vegas coffeehouse made this costly mistake. The shop lacked the handicapped-accessible parking spaces required by the ADA. "Jim," a wheelchair-bound man who occasionally uses crutches, slipped while entering the coffeehouse and broke both of his elbows. The cost of the resulting lawsuit was far more expensive than the cost of making the business ADA-compliant in the first place, which, incidentally, was still required by law after Jim's accident.

ADA-compliance goes beyond constructing and maintaining your facilities, as a Las Vegas trolley company discovered when a wheelchair-bound man was injured on the Strip. While improperly assisting "Jack" into the trolley via the wheelchair lift, the trolley driver accidently caused Jack's wheelchair to shoot backward off the elevated lift onto the concrete sidewalk. Jack received a serious brain injury and later sued the trolley company. In this case, the company was only partially ADA-compliant. Simply providing access was not enough--employees involved with assuring access are required to be properly trained as well.

Businesses must also be on the lookout for employees ignoring the ADA. "Bobby" lived in an apartment complex that provided ADA-approved handicapped parking spaces. Unfortunately, the resident manager routinely parked in a handicapped space because it was the closest available spot to his apartment. The apartment complex was held liable for the manager's actions.

Getting Up to Code
Does compliance sound daunting? Fortunately, many business owners discover that becoming ADA- compliant isn't as hard or as expensive as they thought. A number of government agencies and advocacy groups (some of which are listed below) provide easy-to-understand information on ADA- compliance. For smaller businesses, several special provisions can lessen the financial burden of ADA- compliance. Smaller businesses can even receive a tax credit for becoming ADA-compliant. Time and again I have heard business owners voice their surprise at how easy coming into compliance actually was.

In addition, being ADA-compliant is good business. Disabled people seek out and patronize businesses that make it safe and easy for them to use their facilities. Non-compliant businesses not only face litigation, but also forfeit potential revenue.

There are countless tragic stories about individuals who are injured due to a business's lack of ADA- compliance. Not only are disabled people unnecessarily injured, but businesses that could easily have become ADA-compliant face the tremendous costs of litigation and after-the-fact compliance with the law. Businesses that move to become ADA-compliant before a problem arises can find that increased business from disabled citizens more than offsets the costs of compliance. In short, ADA-compliance is good business, good corporate citizenship and most important, it's the law.

ADA Compliance Information Resources
Department of Justice: 1-800/949-4232, usdoj.gov
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: eeoc.gov
Nevadans for Equal Access: 702/399-5361

Rich Myers, Esq., is a partner in the Las Vegas firm of Crockett & Myers, where he concentrates on cases related to personal injury and medical malpractice.
 

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