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Pre-Emptive Strike to ADA Claims are Coming Your Way!

By: Randy Goldberg

I previously wrote an article about the plague of “ADA Testers” infiltrating our businesses and medical practices with non-sensical claims of ADA non-compliance.  Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the need for ADA compliance and providing access to persons with disabilities.  When I was a police officer, I loved to write tickets for people who were parked in handicapped spots when they were not authorized to do so by law.  Such conduct by these disrespectful individuals, was like sticking up a middle finger to persons with disabilities.  However, there needs to be a way of addressing ADA compliance without allowing self-serving cannibalistic attorneys and professional plaintiffs from profiting from their cottage industry.

The Florida legislature has taken steps to do just that.  As of July 2017, after the enactment of Florida Statute §553.5141, there is a mechanism in place to allow owners of “places of public accommodations” (i.e. businesses and medical offices that are open to the public)[1] to take a pre-emptive strike against such claims.  

The statute provides that “An owner of a place of public accommodation who requests that the owner’s facility be inspected by a qualified expert[2] may submit a certification of conformity with the department that indicates that such place of public accommodation conforms to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Such certification of conformity is valid for 3 years after the date of issuance.[3]

Understand that simply obtaining and filing a certificate of conformity does not get the land owner or tenant an automatic, “get out of jail free” card.  It does however, require the Courts when an action is filed in Florida under Title III of the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prior to the filing of the actual complaint to determine if the plaintiff’s complaint was filed in good faith and if the plaintiff is entitled to attorney’s fees and costs.[4]

Though not perfect, this law is intended to give business owners and practice owners the ability to get in-front of the epidemic of unscrupulous attorneys and professional plaintiffs and prevent them from profiting from their unethical practices.  Time will tell how effective this new law will be.  However, I believe that business owners and medical practitioners need to take advantage of this opportunity which is minimal in cost to protect their businesses and practices.

[1] F.S. §553.5141(1)(e).

[2] A qualified expert includes licensed: general contractor, building contractor, building code administrator, building inspector, plans examiner, interior designer, architect, landscape architect, and/or a previous qualified expert who has been accepted by the federal courts in such cases.

[3] F.S. §553.5141(2)(a).

[4] F.S. §553.5141(5).