“…suits were filed by Ben-Zion Bradley Weitz, a lawyer based in Florida, who has a regular group of people with disabilities from whom he selects plaintiffs. One of them, Todd Kreisler, a man in a wheelchair who lives on the East Side of Manhattan, sued 19 businesses over 16 months – a Chinese restaurant, a liquor store and a sandwich shop among them…”
A small cadre of lawyers, some from out of state, are using New York City’s age and architectural quirkiness as the foundation for a flood of lawsuits citing violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The lawyers are generally not acting on existing complaints from people with disabilities. Instead, they identify local businesses, like bagel shops and delis, that are not in compliance with the law, and then aggressively recruit plaintiffs from advocacy groups for people with disabilities.
The plaintiffs typically collect $500 for each suit, and each plaintiff can be used several times over. The lawyers, meanwhile, make several thousands of dollars, because the civil rights law entitles them to legal fees from the noncompliant businesses.
The practice has set off a debate about whether the lawsuits are a laudable effort, because they force businesses to make physical improvements to comply with the disabilities act, or simply a form of ambulance-chasing, with no one actually having been injured.
The suits may claim a host of problems: at a deli grocery in West Harlem, an overly steep ramp without guardrails, high shelves and a narrowing pathway near the refrigerators; at a yogurt shop in the theater district, no ramp, no bathroom doorknob that can be opened with a closed fist and exposed hot water drains under the bathroom sink; at a flower shop on the Upper East Side, no ramp and shelves that are too high.
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