Does that mean you can’t be sued now?

On Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law House Bill H.F. No. 1542 modifying Minnesota’s law (Laws of Minnesota 2017, Chapter 80) on unfair discriminatory practice as it applies to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The new law requires Minnesota commercial property owners to receive written notification of a violation of an accessibility requirement of a “physical nature” and gives a property owner 60 days to comply with the ADA law before they can be sued for civil damages. So, yes, you can still be sued, except now you have 60 days to comply before a suit can be filed.

Many Minnesota property owners are under the wrong impression that H.F. No. 1542 Chapter 80 alleviates or protects them from civil lawsuits of this nature. This is not true. The new law only provides some breathing room to fix an access violation for the state claims.

The new law was written and signed at the urging of Minnesota businesses, mainly through lobbying efforts organized by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Its intent is to provide some relief from a flurry of recent civil law suits demanding personal damages for perceived ADA non-compliance situations. Some property owners call these “drive-by lawsuits” or “nuisance law suits.” You may have already received one of these letters.

The demand letter typically comes from an attorney siting a noncompliant ADA parking space(s), pedestrian ramp(s), sign(s), striping, etc. on your property. The letter threatens a civil law suit, and then states that a potential civil suit will be dropped if the property owner pays a settlement fee, usually $2,000 - $3,000.

The new law not only gives a property owner 60 days to make their property ADA compliant, but the written notice “… must not include a request or demand for money or an offer or agreement to accept money, but may offer to engage in settlement negotiations before litigation.” However … “a civil action may be brought after the response time provided in the notice.”

The law does allow for some extra time if the necessary repairs or fixes cannot be made due to weather or other impediments, provided a schedule for the repairs is created and adhered to.

Sonnie Elliott, Principal at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, worked on behalf of the Minnesota Shopping Center Association (MSCA) to help pass the new law. Sonnie said, ”This law is to encourage continued compliance. Its intent is to help you if you get caught on a small mistake and sent a demand notice for money. Its gives you time to comply with ADA law.”

There are other particulars of the new law that are not covered in this article and important to be aware of if served notice for ADA noncompliance.

The Best Remedy is to Comply Now

Many times a site goes out of compliance because of wrong striping, old signage, remodels, or repairs, or even ground movements from weather conditions. Sometimes a site was never constructed properly in the first place. Even new construction can be non-compliant.

To minimize or avoid the risk of a civil law suit, make sure your site is ADA compliant now from both a state and federal level. Hire a registered engineer who is knowledgeable in ADA law. To discuss your site and schedule an ADA survey, contact Jeff Westendorf 952.697.5722 jeff.westendorf@westwoodps.com or me at 952.697.5722 bruce.carlson@westwoodps.com.

Connect with me on LinkedIn to get more updates on ADA compliance.

Bruce Carlson