California business owners are very familiar with ADA shake-down lawsuits, either because they or neighboring businesses have been targeted. Arizona attorney, Peter K. Strojnik has made a career of filing hundreds of these lawsuits. With his allegedly disabled client, Theresa Brooke, a self-admitted “professional tester” plaintiff, they recently sued dozens of Central Valley hotels for alleged pool-lift violations.
Some California businesses succumbed to the tactics of Mr. Strojnik and Ms. Brooke, as court records suggest settlements were reached in some of the cases. A large number of them, however, were thrown out by the court because Mr. Strojnik could not fix the defective complaints. The judge ruled that Ms. Brooke could not sue hotels she had never visited. Because she never visited the hotels, she had never “encountered the barrier” of a pool without a lift. Mr. Strojnik gave up in our area and seems to have circled back to Los Angeles and Orange County, as well as back to his home state of Arizona.
Mr. Strojnik must have had time to rethink his litigation strategy. He and other attorneys are now focusing on business websites that are not ADA-accessible. ABC15 in Phoenix, Arizona reports that Mr. Strojnik has filed seven new lawsuits alleging discrimination because certain hotel websites do not allow Ms. Brooke to book wheelchair-accessible rooms online. Other lawsuits contend business websites do not allow persons with disabilities to purchase goods or services.
This could be an easier way to target businesses, since encountering the barrier can be done from the comfort of any professional plaintiff’s home. However, Ms. Brooke’s legal theory has not yet been tested in court. It is not clear if attempting to book an accessible hotel room at a hotel one does not actually intend to visit, in a city to which one has no connection (which is her modus operandi), confers the standing to sue that was sorely lacking in the pool-lift cases.
Strojnik and Brooke seem to target one geographical area at a time, so it could be some time before they circle back the Central Valley. If history is any indication though, when they do, phone calls and correspondence from them will suggest that they have a slam-dunk case with no possible defense. Persuasive though they may sound, this is not true!
We recommend that businesses work with IT specialists to ensure ADA compliance with their websites. But if you get one of these shake-down lawsuits, whether from Strojnik or someone else, don't fall for the scam and pay them off. Consult an attorney. You may be able to successfully defend the case.
See the ABC15 story here: http://www.abc15.com/news/local-news/investigations/frivilous-lawsuits-t...
Written by Alison H. Samarin, Associate with Fishman, Larsen & Callister