One San Diego lawyer is filing hundreds of lawsuits accusing local businesses of civil rights violations.
Many of the lawsuits allege discrimination in public accommodations.
Team 10 tracked down an expert who said he didn’t find any of the allegations in one such lawsuit that was filed against a Hillcrest cafe to be true.
“I was kind of taken back by the allegations,” said certified access specialist David Stuber.
Gene Padigos opened Subterranean Coffee Boutique about five years ago. He has a cafe in North Park and one in Hillcrest.
"I’m here basically 10 hours a day,” he said.
Padigos takes the weekends off, but even then he dreams about coffee. Still, the perks of the job outweigh any slow-drip nightmares.
"Being your own boss, I think that’s number one,” he said. “Having control of your destiny.”
That changed when a lawsuit showed up from someone Gene doesn’t remember ever meeting.
The lawsuit, filed by a man named Roy Mason, claims the restaurant didn’t have any seats for a disabled person. It also alleges the premises lacked things such as minimum aisle width and accessible seating integrated with general seating.
"It totally is blowing my mind,” said Padigos.
To get to the bottom of the allegations, Padigos brought in Stuber.
"Before I even walked in the door I’m checking things out, my mind is already analyzing the environment,” Stuber told Team 10.
Stuber is certified as an expert in accessibility standards by the state of California. According to the state, the certified access specialist program “is designed to meet the public's need for experienced, trained, and tested individuals who can inspect buildings and sites for compliance with applicable state and federal construction-related accessibility standards.”
"I had this ingrained into me,” Stuber said.
Stuber walked Team 10 through the lawsuit. He said he determined all eight allegations were unfounded.
This is the second lawsuit filed by La Jolla-based attorney Ted Shin that access specialists have disputed. In February, Team 10 first exposed a similar lawsuit Shin filed against a business owner in El Cajon.
In a side-by-side comparison of the lawsuits, the eight allegations the premises lacked are the same. Despite the certified access specialist’s findings, Padigos settled the lawsuits. He said it was cheaper to settle than fight the allegations.
Federal proposal would require notice and cure period
This year Congressman Scott Peters helped introduce a bill at the federal level targeting predatory lawsuits using the Americans with Disability Act.
“Under the current situation you get a lawsuit where the business owner may just be forced to settle without even correcting the problem and I just don’t think that’s the right way to handle the problem," he said.
Team 10 investigator Adam Racusin asked Peters if the law as it’s written needs to change.
“Yes, absolutely it does,” he said.
If passed, the bill would create a notice and cure period before the business could face a lawsuit.
In a press release when the bill was announced, Peters stated:
"The Americans with Disabilities Act created a necessary and commonsense framework to help remove barriers and ensure every American has access to public and private spaces...
However, unlike other federal laws, when businesses are out of compliance with ADA rules, there is no grace period for them to fix problems with their properties. As a result, well-intentioned small business owners are targeted with predatory lawsuits that don't allow them to make changes to their stores or workspaces before they get buried with legal fees. This bipartisan bill gives businesses time to make necessary changes before they are subject to litigation.
By reducing the burden on well-intentioned small business owners, we can focus on holding bad actors accountable and small business owners can spend money improving access instead of on legal fees."