New Bill Passed to Protect Small Business from Fraudulent “Shakedown” Letters

Monday, October 1st, 2012

It is an unfortunate reality that small businesses throughout the state, including some here in Riverside, have been the victims of shakedown letters and lawsuits by unscrupulous attorneys, under the guise of disability access.  In most instances, the letters are generated from a drive-by, not good-faith patronage of the business where barriers to access are confronted by a person with a disability.

Please be advised that on September 19, 2012, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1186, a Disability Access Reform Bill. Because this bill was enacted as an urgency clause necessary to avoid unnecessary litigation and to facilitate compliance with disability access law, its provisions are effective immediately. Some of the key provisions of this new law, which have the potential to impact businesses in Riverside, are as follows:

Any construction-related accessibility claim must be verified by the plaintiff.
  2. Pre-litigation demands for money by attorneys are prohibited.
  3. The law allows specified defendants to request a court stay on further proceedings where a construction improvement was approved pursuant to a local building permit, inspection process, or by a local building inspector.
  4. The law puts into place new provisions to prevent “stacking” of multiple claims to increase statutory damages. The law also reduces a defendant’s minimum liability where the defendant has corrected all construction-related accessibility claims.
  5. Finally, the law calls for attorney discipline for counsel who engage in certain specified litigation conduct which is contrary to these provisions.

Should your business be subject to a shakedown in violation of this new law, please feel free to contact the Office of Economic Development who will work with the City Attorney to direct you to the proper entities for assistance.