AZ lawmakers introduce new bill to prevent 'drive-by' disability lawsuits

Arizona lawmakers, disability advocates, and business leaders are backing a new bill that would “empower” courts to take action against attorneys who are accused of exploiting state and national disability laws with huge batches of lawsuits.

Rep. Maria Syms, R- Paradise Valley, introduced House Bill 2504 on Wednesday.

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The bill is co-sponsored by 11 other Republican legislators and has the broad support of leading disability organizations and the business community.

"This bill discourages the thousands of 'drive-by' lawsuits aimed primarily at attorneys' fees, while preserving the civil rights of those truly harmed by ADA violations," Rep. Syms said in a written statement.  "It's a win for both the business community and the disabled community."

In the Valley, businesses have been swept up in a flood of disability lawsuits filed by a controversial group called Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID).

An ABC15 investigation exposed AID filed more than 1,700 lawsuits last year alleging violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. In almost every case, AID sued businesses over signage issues and was demanding thousands of dollars to settle the cases.

According to legislative officials, HB2504 would tweak state disability laws in several ways:
- Stipulate that monetary damages shall only be awarded to aggrieved persons for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
- Empowers courts to assess sanctions against plaintiffs and/or their attorneys if it is determined that a lawsuit was filed with the primary purpose of obtaining payment from defendants.
- Allows the Attorney General to receive those awards for the purpose of educating businesses and the disabled community about their rights under ADA, as well as awarding attorneys’ fees to those who filed meritorious complaints with the Attorney General and avoided litigation.

HB2405 is one of three bills introduced this legislative session in an attempt to curb the spread of serial ADA litigation.

RELATED: Lawmakers work to curb ‘drive-by’ lawsuits

Another bill SB1198, introduced by Sen. John Kavanagh has already been widely criticized by disability rights groups.

On Wednesday, a rally and protest was held on the Capitol lawn.

“It’s targeting the wrong people,” said Phil Pangrazio, Director of Ability 360. “It’s punishing people with disabilities when it should be targeting these unethical and unscrupulous lawyers.”

SB1198 would give businesses a grace period to fix ADA violations before a lawsuit could be filed. A similar bill failed last legislative session.

In response to ABC15’s reports, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake also introduced a federal bill that seeks a notification and cure period before a lawsuit.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com.

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