The owners of Truffies stationary shop in West Palm Beach are among the latest Florida business owners who thought they were ADA friendly only to get slapped with a lawsuit alleging their business violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“This could literally bankrupt us,” said Alan Kessler who recently moved to the South Dixie location with his wife after operating on the island of Palm Beach for 30 years.
The suit, filed earlier this month, claims the business failed to have an accessible path, forced the disabled to make appointments, and a handicap ramp on site, the suit claims, is not accessible enough.
“This ramp is illegal because it should have 6-inch pieces on the side so no-one can roll off the side,” explained Kessler.
But perhaps even more frustrating to these small business owners.
“There’s nothing to educate me, nothing,” said Kessler's wife and co-owner Sue Ellen Clarfeld. "When they received their occupational license from the city, no one mentioned they were out of compliance."
Florida has become a hotbed for lawsuits accusing business owners of operating with known ADA violations. In fact, more lawsuits alleging non-compliance of the Americans with Disabilities Act are filed in Florida and California than anywhere else in the country. One year ago, we reported on Florida's most prolific ADA lawsuit filer.
Critics of these lawsuits claim many of them are filed less in an effort to raise awareness about accessibility and more as an effort to make an easy buck. Many of the same attorneys are filing these lawsuits, sometimes dozens at one time. In most cases, the lawsuits are settled with confidential agreements, meaning the details of the suits are not made public, including how much the cases settled for.
Fed with what is widely described as "drive by lawsuits," last session, attorney and FL Representative Tom Leek (R-Daytona Beach) introduced legislation to protect business owners from frivolous ADA lawsuits and encourage compliancy. The law, which allows business owners to register remediation plans for fixing their known ADA violations, officially went into effect in July. But we’ve learned the online registry business owners need to fill out, wasn't up and running until October 31st. When asked about the delay, Kathleen Keenan, spokesperson for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation responded in an email stating:
"The appropriation and the funds related to the bill became available July 1. From there, the department went into competitive procurement, which was resolved quickly. The registry was completed under budget by our goal date of October 31.”
Had the state's registry been up and running. the business owners of Truffies may not be dealing with legal threats.
“They’re trying to say I gave him mental and emotional heartache you don’t think I get a lot of mental and emotional pain over this,” said Carfeld.
To register your business and file a remediation plan, click here. Once there, scroll to the bottom of the page and click "ADA Title III Registry."