Disability Access

The ADA and California’s Disability Access Statutes

Under California and federal law, almost any business that is open to the public is mandated to provide full and equal access to their facilities to persons with disabilities. In California, businesses must comply with three different statutes:

■  The Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.)
■  The Unruh Act (Cal. Civ. Code § 51 et seq.)
■  The Disabled Persons Act (Cal. Civ. Code § 54 et seq.)

Defending Lawsuits Brought Under the ADA, Unruh Act and the Disabled Persons Act

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires buildings, structures and facilities that are open to the general public to be both accessible and usable by persons with disabilities.

Over five million private establishments must meet the requirements of the ADA. Among the businesses that must comply with the ADA are restaurants, retail stores, hotels and theaters. Under the ADA, the following are considered barriers to accessibility:

■  Faucets that require twisting in the bathrooms
■  Improper signage for accessible parking
■  Towel dispensers that are too high in restrooms
■  Lack of grab bars in stalls for persons with disabilities
■  Lack of insulation for pipes underneath sinks in public bathrooms
■  Aisles in retail stores that are too narrow for wheelchairs and other mobility aids
■  Access aisles that are over 60 inches wide for handicap parking spaces
■  Access aisles that are over 96 inches wide for van-accessible handicap parking spaces

Persons with disabilities who encounter barriers to access at an establishment that is open to the general public can sue to force the business to ensure full and equal access.

Since the ADA was enacted, hundreds of thousands of lawsuits have been filed around the country in state courts against businesses serving the public. Forty percent of all accessibility lawsuits filed in the nation are filed here in California. This is due in part to California’s strong public policy favoring accessibility for persons with disabilities. Since violations of the ADA constitute violations of California’s accessibility laws, plaintiffs can sue businesses under multiple causes of action. Furthermore, the availability of monetary damages under California state law incentivizes plaintiffs to sue in California. Additionally, businesses may be exposed to civil lawsuits filed by the Department of Justice if they fail to have facilities and policies in place that are ADA compliant.

Litigation Risk Management

Generally, lawsuits filed under the ADA, the Unruh Act, and the Disabled Persons Act allege that businesses violated architectural requirements that are found in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and the California Building Code (CBC). The ADA Standards for Accessible Design are specific architectural requirements adopted by the Department of Justice. The latest version of the Standards was published in 2010.

The CBC details California’s accessibility requirements and has been codified as Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations. Violations of the ADA Standards constitute violations of the ADA and violations of the CBC are violations of the Disabled Persons Act.

Confusion can arise because these standards are distinct, with the ADA Standards generally imposing stricter requirements. Businesses encountering a conflict between the two standards should be advised to adhere to the stricter ADA Standards.

Disability access lawsuits can seem like a nuisance. After all, how big a deal can it be if a counter at a retail store is a few inches too high for someone in a wheelchair or if a video display does not include captioning for the hearing impaired? Too many businesses of all sizes have learned the hard way that disability access law suits, or even the threat of them, can come with a heavy price tag and may even disrupt business operations.

We can assist businesses understand and cope with the complex web of state and federal regulations to minimize litigation risk. We also have the expertise to provide advice and counsel regarding whether your premises meet both the ADA Standards as well as the CBC.

To obtain more information about how we may be to assist you in connection with any questions regarding accessibility to commercial properties in the Los Angeles area, please contact the Law Office of Michael Chung at 213-700-0198.