Rash of disability lawsuits has Merced County officials taking action

MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A recent rash of disability lawsuits has officials in the north valley taking action.

More than 50 people came to the Merced Senior Center to learn more about how to make their businesses compliant with disability laws and protect themselves from getting sued.

Several businesses across Merced County have recently been hit with lawsuits for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many feel they're being targeted for minor issues just so a small number of plaintiffs and their attorneys can make money.

David Gonzalves said, "That's the biggest frustration they feel they don't have a chance to fix the problem before they're fined and it's thousands of dollars, some small businesses have closed because they can't afford to stay open and that for our community is not what we need right now."

The lawyers argue suing is often the only way to convince business owners to take action, but now the city of Merced is trying to change that. Development Services Director And Chief Building Official David Gonzalvez organized an informational event at the Merced Senior Center.

"This is a civil rights issue for people to get access to the same thing that that are not disabled and that working through it in a positive manner is the best message," said Gonzalvez. "Yes, it costs money but working through that in a positive aspect is the best thing for our community."

The greater Merced Chamber of Commerce also helped with the event by spreading the word to dozens of local businesses.

Jennifer Krum with the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce said, "Our goal is to keep you compliant, keep you in the know, keep you educated as a business owner."

The meeting gave details on state and federal laws, including how to remove barriers for those in wheelchairs and the tax incentives that can help.

The city is planning to hold more workshops like this one, and wants to include more local contractors and vendors who can help other businesses do the work they need to be compliant.

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