New federal legislation could protect local businesses from "drive-by lawsuits"

(KWES) - Local businesses could be getting more protection against drive-by lawsuits, and it's coming from the federal government.

National lawmakers tell us a proposed bill is aimed at leveling the playing field when it comes to lawsuits against businesses for infractions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The bill is called the Americans with Disabilities Education and Reform Act, and it would establish a 60-day time window for businesses to respond to notices of infraction, and another 60-day period to make any potential fixes.

You may remember, back in 2016, Midland had more than 2 dozen businesses that were sued or threatened to be sued by someone from out of state for allegedly not being in compliance with disability standards.

Local attorney, Jeanne Morales, explained to me why many of those businesses paid out settlements for thousands of dollars.

"If someone sues because their rights were violated, and you win, you get attorneys fees and costs, but if the business owner wins, they don't get that," said Morales.

Lawmakers tell us the problem is that when demand letters that threaten lawsuits are settled, no work on infractions is guaranteed to be done.

It also turns out, Midland businesses weren't the only ones being targeted.

Those lawmakers said thousands of businesses across the nation were receiving demand letters for alleged violations.

A cheap trick according to Morales, "A few attorneys have been giving us all a bad rap, driving around noting minor imperfections, and filing all these lawsuits or sending demand letters demanding cash to not file lawsuits and the attorney have gotten rich."

In response to this problem, last year Texas lawmakers approved bill H.B 1463 which put in place 60-day time windows for business owners to acknowledge, then fix ADA violations, before a lawsuit can be filed.

The bill also requires any notices of violation to be specific in nature, so businesses can properly respond.

Bill H.B 1463 is nearly identical to the Americans with Disabilities Education and Reform Act, and It's a crucial legislation for local businesses because ADA-based lawsuits can be filed in both state and federal courts.

So, this bill would essentially disarm demand letters, covering local businesses on both ends.

The ADA Reform and Education Act passed the House of Representatives last week, and now faces the Senate.

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