Minnesota ADA Lawsuits for Architectural Barriers

If you operate a business, you are at risk of an ADA lawsuit.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that public accommodations remove all architectural barriers unless removal is cost prohibitive. Although this has been law for decades, until recently lawsuits over architectural barriers were few and far between in Minnesota.

But beginning in 2013, the number of ADA lawsuits over architectural barriers exploded. It followed a pattern from other states like Florida and California, where a small number of attorneys, with a few plaintiffs and a non-profit organization, began suing small businesses by the dozens. Often, those groups only demanded a financial settlement and moved on to the next lawsuit.

In Minnesota, the state legislature attempted to set some limits on the lawsuits multiple times. The Legislature amended the state law twice in an effort to make it easier for small businesses to resolve the lawsuits quickly and with less expense – so long as they took appropriate action to be sure they comply with the ADA. Since that time, the lawsuits have changed, but they have not gone away.

But there are proactive steps you can take to minimize the risk, make it easier to resolve a lawsuit, and expand your customer base by making your business welcoming to people with disabilities.

1) Remember that removing barriers is a good investment in your business.

Forget about the lawsuits and the attorneys bringing them. Complying with the ADA is good for business. By correctly striping your parking lot, having a compliant ramp, and making sure your doors can be opened by someone who cannot grip a knob, you are encouraging more people to patronize your business. And there may be tax credits available for these investments.

2) Prioritize removal of certain barriers.

This isn’t just a tip; the US Department of Justice and the US Small Business Administration provided written guidance on how to think about barrier removal. To prioritize, imagine a patron coming to your store. Think through how they would park, enter the building, travel to and use your restroom, and pay for the goods or services. By focusing on those steps, you can prioritize access and not be overwhelmed with the scope of the ADA.

As a practical matter, doing so will also decrease your chances of being sued. If your business has no visible architectural barriers from its parking lot, your business will be less likely to attract the attention of a person only looking to start a lawsuit.

3) Seek out help.

There are many resources available to help you understand what you need to do with your business. The Minnesota State Council on Disability has pages of resources and has a staff eager to answer your questions. The US SBA and US Department of Justice have an ADA Guide for Small Businesses and a Small Business Primer.

Your local, regional, or state business organization is likely to have resources as well.

Or you could hire your own access specialist. The Minnesota Council on Disability has a list of specialists. An access specialist is not a free resource. But it has its own advantages. The specialist can create a customized plan for your business. And following the advice of the specialist may be a defense in any lawsuit.

Taking these steps should be good for your business. They should also decrease your chances of getting sued. And if you do get sued, contact one of Rubric Legal’s attorneys.

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