Just as one flood of lawsuits against Arizona businesses finally dries up, another downpour begins. Peter Strojnik of Phoenix, the same attorney who filed more than 1,100 lawsuits that drew the attention of the Arizona attorney general, has filed approximately 60 new lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against motels and places of lodging in the last three months in federal court in Arizona. Fernando Gastelum, an Arizona resident with a prosthetic leg who uses a wheelchair, is the plaintiff in each of these cases. In each suit, Gastelum claims that he visited the hotel or motel’s website to determine if the property provides the accessible features necessary for him to be able to stay there. He claims that the websites failed to disclose sufficient information about their accessibility and that, upon visiting each hotel or motel, he discovered barriers to access, including a lack of accessible parking spaces, steep ramps, stairs with open risers, and other alleged ADA violations. He seeks orders requiring the hotels and motels to remove the alleged access barriers and revise their websites, and demands damages, including punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
These new lawsuits come just as the more than 1,100 lawsuits filed by this same lawyer were resolved. On November 13, 2017, an Arizona judge signed an order that finalized the dismissal of the more than 1,100 lawsuits against Arizona businesses that had been sued for allegedly failing to offer enough accessible parking spaces for the disabled or failing to mark parking spaces with adequate signage. After initially entering an order to dismiss all of the lawsuits, which the plaintiffs appealed, the Honorable David M. Talamante accepted a stipulation between the Arizona attorney general and plaintiffs David Ritzenthaler, Advocates for American Disabled Individuals LLC, and Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities Foundation, Inc. (AID) to end these cases. The order restricts Ritzenthaler and AID from filing any future lawsuits alleging violations of the Arizonans with Disabilities Act (AzDA) or Title III of the ADA. The attorney general’s office agreed to withdraw its motion for sanctions against AID and, in exchange, AID agreed to pay $25,000 to establish a fund to educate and assist businesses regarding AzDA and ADA compliance.
What Can Your Business Do?
The latest round of Arizona lawsuits tracks a rising trend around the country. Hotel, motel, and resort owners in Arizona and other states may want to carefully assess their physical places of business, their websites and online reservation systems, and the way they provide their services to ensure that they comply with the ADA. Issues to look for include the following:
- Disclosing details on the hotel website about the accessible features of the property and the ADA accessible guest rooms, including the type and number of beds and whether the rooms include a bathtub or a roll-in shower
- Providing the required minimum number of accessible parking spaces, including van-accessible spaces for guests who use lift-equipped vans
- Ensuring the room reservation system allows individuals with disabilities the same access to make reservations as nondisabled guests, and that all comparable room types are rented before the accessible guest rooms
- Offering registration counter space that is low enough for a person in a wheelchair to fill out registration forms or offering a folding shelf for their use
- Providing an accessible way for people with disabilities to enter and exit pools and spas, such as a pool lift, sloped entry, or transfer walls
- Offering the required number of accessible guest rooms for the disabled, including rooms with roll-in showers, if the hotel has more than 50 guest rooms
- Training staff to offer assistance to persons with disabilities who need help transporting their luggage to their guest rooms and to respond to other requests for assistance
- Ensuring that accessible shuttle vehicles are used or that equivalent shuttle services are provided for those requiring accessible vehicles, if shuttle services are available
Hotels and motels can find a checklist of common (but by no means exhaustive) ADA issues at the U.S. Department of Justice’s website.