Oct 1, 2011

Man earns great living Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuits

Public Radio Looks at California ADA Lawsuits
By John Frith

You know the disability lawsuit situation in California is really out of control when it shows up on public radio.

In a This American Life segment called "The Squeaky Wheelchair Gets the Grease," reporter Alex MacInnis reports on serial litigant Thomas Mundy and his attorney, Morse Mehrban, and their Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuits against small business owners in Los Angeles. (The 16-minute segment begins at the 33-minute mark.)

In the three years since he moved to California from Hawaii, Mundy estimates he has filed more than 500 suits, and Mehrban said he's filed thousands of suits. MacInnis noted that Mundy won't say how much he makes, but that a defense lawyer involved in such cases estimates he's received more than $500,000.

"I don't want to talk about the money side of it," Mundy told the reporter. "I think a lot of people focus on the money issue and it's not always about the money."

Which, of course, brings to mind the old saying that when somebody says it's not the money, it's the principle of the thing - it's the money.

Mehrban, meanwhile, has pulled in "at least six figures" in attorney fees, the report says.

How easy is it to file - and win - these cases? Kim Blackseth, an Oakland disabled-access consultant who is himself a quadriplegic, says there's no such thing as a totally compliant building anywhere in the state.

"There's not a facility or building in the state of California that I can't find a technical barrier (in)....That is no challenge, to go down the street and find technical violations. If that's your mission when you get up in the morning, you can do that. The question is, is that worthwhile, is it important?"

California is one of the few states in the country that allows plaintiffs to sue for money. In most other states, lawsuits can be filed but only to require violations to be corrected. Shouldn't that be the case here as well?

For earlier coverage of the problem on our blog, see here and here and here.

And the L.A. Times ran a lengthy piece that included a lawsuit over a condiment counter in a hamburger joint that was a half-inch higher than the code allows. Blackseth also answers some common questions about ADA compliance.