Arizona Amends State Disabilities Act to Protect Businesses From Drive-by Lawsuits
Author: Caroline Larsen (Phoenix)
Published Date: April 20, 2017
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey just signed into law an amendment to the Arizonans with Disabilities Act (AzDA) designed to make it more difficult to bring lawsuits against businesses based on claims that they are not accessible to individuals with disabilities. The amendment requires potential plaintiffs to give business owners notice of alleged access violations and allows businesses 30-90 days to correct the issues before a lawsuit can be filed. It also excludes websites from the AzDA’s requirements and authorizes courts to impose sanctions on plaintiffs and their attorneys if the court finds that a lawsuit was brought for the primary purpose of obtaining a payment from the defendant business.
Last year, one plaintiff and his attorney flooded Arizona courts with more than 1,100 lawsuits alleging minor, technical violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the AzDA, such as a lack of “van-accessible” signage or parking lot signs that are posted a few inches too low. In response, numerous business owners and trade associations complained to state legislators and demanded amendments to the AzDA that would discourage such serial litigation. Several Arizona legislators offered proposed amendments, which were met with criticism and opposition from Arizona disability advocacy groups.
A prior version of the final bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1406, allowed businesses only 30 days to comply with the AzDA after receiving notice of potential violations and limited the kind of violations that were subject to the notice requirement. Representatives from the Arizona Center for Disability Law participated in the drafting of the prior version of SB 1406 in an effort to find a compromise that balanced the interests of individuals with disabilities against the interests of businesses.
After several months of negotiations, House Speaker Javan “J.D.” Mesnard proposed an amendment on the House floor that allowed businesses more time to correct accessibility issues after receiving notice, removed the list of violations subject to the notice requirement, and exempted websites from the AzDA’s coverage. This amended version of the legislation passed the House and Senate and went directly to the governor’s office, where he signed it immediately.
The new law will take effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns. The amendment to the AzDA has no effect on lawsuits filed under the federal ADA.
Caroline Larsen has litigated and defended clients in a wide variety of employment matters in various venues, including Arizona state court, various district courts, the Arizona Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, Arizona Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice - Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH), U.S....