Jerry Doran is a paraplegic who requires a wheelchair and a mobility-equipped vehicle to travel in public. He visited a Del Taco restaurant where he could not find a handicapped parking space near the entrance, and he also had difficulty using the restroom.
Doran sued the restaurant owners to force them to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) handicapped access requirements. Before the trial, the parties reached a $4,000 monetary damages settlement. The restaurant owner promised to remedy the architectural barriers.
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But Doran’s attorney then insisted upon receiving $39,795 attorney’s fees from the restaurant owners. The owners refused to pay, arguing that they never received any pre-litigation letter complaining about handicapped access to the restaurant.
If you were the judge would you award Doran’s attorney fees of $39,795?
The judge said no!
“Serial plaintiffs serve as ‘professional pawns’ in an ongoing scheme to bilk attorney’s fees,” the judge began. “The integrity of the bar is called into question by the well-publicized accounts of lawyers employing unethical tactics in the pursuit of their own financial gain,” he continued.
Many small businesses, when faced with costly litigation and a potentially drastic judgment against them, often quickly settle these ADA lawsuits for modest amounts, he emphasized.
“The Court holds it is a proper exercise of discretion and common sense in an ADA case or a parallel state case to require, as a prerequisite to recovering attorneys’ fees, a pre-litigation unambiguous warning notice to the defendant and a reasonable opportunity to cure the violation,” the judge ruled. Attorney fees denied, he concluded.
Based on the 2005 U.S. District Court decision in Doran v. Del Taco Inc., 373 Fed.Supp.2d 1028.
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