Small businesses in Hanford get hit with disability lawsuits

HANFORD, Calif. (KFSN) -- Small businesses in Hanford are getting hit with disability lawsuits. The city says at least 12 lawsuits have been filed by a law firm claiming to be fighting for equal access.

La Fiesta in Hanford has a long list of things to fix, "The slope in the parking lot," manager, Javier Gonzalez added, "the spaces, how big they have to be, the ramps, how long, how steep."

Gonzalez says he could go on for an hour and inside, there are even more problems. Problems he says, he wasn't aware of -- such as wheelchair access to the bar. That is, until a man filed a disability lawsuit, demanding change.

Gonzalez said, "We're willing to do the repairs, we just don't like the fact that the lawyer can charge whatever they want for however many times this person came in and he's doing the same thing with other businesses."

City Council member Justin Mendes says at least 12 small businesses downtown are facing lawsuits -- all filed by one law firm, representing one client. He says some will likely settle outside of court but some could end up going out of business.

"They don't have a chance to fix it and make it right, so if they get sued and they still have to fix their business, the funds aren't there to stay open," Mendes said.

Back at La Fiesta, we found Janis Oswalt. She has trouble walking but managed to have dinner inside. She says there are problems with access around town, especially with the older buildings -- but she also believes there is a better way to fix the problem, "Yes, I do... talk to the manager," Oswalt said.

Mendes says the city also wants to help. There will be a workshop at the civic center, Wednesday night and business owners will be able to get advice on ADA compliance. It won't be a venue for public comment but Mendes would like to get a record of all the lawsuits.

"Write it down, send it to city hall, let's get a big pile of it and send it to our state and federal legislators about fixing the law," Mendes said.

We talked with the attorney behind the lawsuits. She was out of the office and couldn't comment at the time.

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