PHOENIX -- A deal between the Attorney General's Office and a group advocating for the disabled will keep them from filing new lawsuits against Arizona businesses -- at least in state court.
But an attorney who was involved in filing those lawsuits says this victory being claimed for businesses is a setback for those protected by the Arizonans with Disabilities Act.
The agreement, awaiting approval from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Talmante bars Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities from bringing new legal actions against businesses who laws that require certain accommodations be made for the handicapped. AID will also pay $25,000 to the Attorney General's Office to be used in educating businesses about their obligations under the law.
It also means that AID will not appeal a ruling dismissing the more than 1,700 cases they had previously filed.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich, in a prepared statement, called the settlement "a victory for Arizona consumers and small businesses.''
"Arizona is not going to tolerate serial litigants who try to shake down small hardworking businesses by exploiting the disability community,'' he said.
But attorney Peter Strojnik, who represented AID in many of the cases, said it is the disabled community that will suffer most. He said the legal agreement, coupled with a change in law approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature, throws new roadblocks in the path of those who depend on the disability law to ensure they have safe access to public facilities, including businesses.
Strojnik also took a verbal swat at Brnovich for saying the legal complaints filed last year were "frivolous'' and calling them "copy-and-paste lawsuits'' over issues that were "minor and easily fixable.''
For example, he said, the law spells out how much of a slope there can be on parking spots reserved for the disabled.
"Obviously, when a person with a wheelchair comes out, he's just going to roll down on the street and get killed,'' Strojnik said.
Under the new law, someone alleging a violation under the Arizonans with Disabilities Act would have to give the business at least 60 days to resolve the problem.
Even after that, once a lawsuit is filed, the statute allows a judge to determine if the person complaining or the attorney is a "vexatious litigant'' who files multiple cases. That would permit all the cases to be combined, a move that would save money for the defendants.
And the law prohibits a court from awarding civil penalties and compensatory damages in civil actions.
"I have a number of businesses that are (run by) friends that have been greatly affected by lawsuit and lawsuit threats ... where they have had to consider closing their doors because of the literally thousands of dollars they have had to pay out in litigation costs,'' she said.
But Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, objected to giving businesses more time to deal with problems he believes they should have fixed years ago.
"The Arizonans with Disabilities Act has been in place for 27 years,'' he said during the debate, "27 years that every small business should have known to this point what they have to do in order to accommodate people with disabilities.''
And Quezada said that ultimately it is people with disabilities who do not stand to benefit from the change in law; quite the opposite.
"These are people who are blind, these are people who are deaf, these are people who have a limiting disability so they have to use a wheelchair,'' he said. "They can't access services, they can't access these local businesses.''
He also suggested that the change in the law actually will result in more businesses ignoring its basic requirements of accommodation.