Well, at least that’s the goal of a new California law – SB-1608 to be exact. OK, it’s somewhat controversial, but I think it shows some possibility for improving access in the long run.
For those of you unfamiliar with drive-bys, they are also known as nuisance lawsuits. The whole goal is to extract a payment without going to court. And the folks that do them, do a lot of them; in fact that is how they make their money. In most cases they usually target a specific area or a specific type of business.
They visit the business briefly (hence the name “drive-by”) and find some sort of access problem. They then file a lawsuit alleging they were damaged by it. Usually they have attorneys on their staff or they know how to file the papers, so it’s not a huge legal cost for them. When the suit is filed they offer to settle for a specific sum – usually between $5,000 and $10,000. The amount is critical, as it has to be less than it would cost to defend the lawsuit. The business pays, the suit is dropped and life goes on.
So what’s the problem? Well, aside from the harassment factor, in the end the access issues (if there were any) never get fixed. Plus to be honest, it’s always the small businesses that suffer – those that can’t afford to have an attorney at their beck and call.
Enter SB-1608. Basically this law creates a way for businesses to work with the state, when there are access issues involved. Under the new law, if your property is inspected by a certified access specialist (CASp) and later sued for an access issue, the defendant would be able to request a stay of the lawsuit and opt for an early settlement conference through the courts.
There are many advantages to this method. First off, the business can work to resolve access issues without incurring additional damages or attorneys fees. Second, the access problems would actually be addressed and fixed. And third, it would create a whole new class of access specialists – those that truly know all the laws and codes.
Today, anyone can be an access specialist. It’s pretty easy. But to become a CASp you have to pass a pretty rigorous test. So in the end, we would actually have knowledgeable specialists out there. That’s something that we lack today (although there are some good ones, they are few and far between), and I have to admit that a lot of unsuspecting business owners pay good money for bad access advice.
As I said, it is controversial, but we will see how it goes. Something had to be done, and I personally think this is a step in the right direction.