California would crack down on lawyers who abuse the state's disability access laws for personal profit under a proposed state law that cleared its final legislative hurdle Friday.
Senate Bill 1186 received bipartisan support in the Senate, which concurred in amendments, 34-3. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Written by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and by Republican Sen. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, SB 1186 takes aim at lawyers who flood businesses with threats of access lawsuits even if the owners demonstrate good faith in serving customers with disabilities.
A key element of SB 1186 is that potential damages for disability access violations would drop from a minimum of $4,000 to much less, $2,000 in some cases, $1,000 in others, if the defendant corrected violations very quickly.
SB 1186 would require attorneys to include their State Bar license numbers in a demand letter, would require that a construction-related claim state the alleged access violation, would require that defendants be informed of their rights and obligations, and would bar lawyers from making demands for money before litigation proceeds.
The measure also would add $1 to business license fees to help pay for promoting and enhancing compliance with disability law.
California entitles people with disabilities to full and equal business accommodations, facilities and services. Some lawyers exploit that law by mailing numerous threats of legal action, demanding money, even when a violation is minor, unintentional, or the business owner is willing to correct the problem quickly.
SB 1186 "maintains the hard-fought civil rights of the disabled community while helping to protect California businesses from predatory demands for money letters and lawsuits," Steinberg told a legislative committee.
The bill bans the "unscrupulous practice of 'demand for money' letters, stops the stacking of claims based on alleged repeat violations to force a business into a quick settlement, and encourages businesses to fix their violations to comply with the law, he said.