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‘Champion’ for disabled willing to drop lawsuits for quick cash

A Clark County man and his Las Vegas attorney have filed 274 federal lawsuits since January claiming local businesses are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Attorney Whitney Wilcher had no comment for me, citing pending litigation. But in an email to one business he sued, Wilcher wrote: “Mr. (Kevin) Zimmerman is a patron of local businesses and is a champion for the rights and benefits of individuals with disabilities.”

Zimmerman, 39, uses a wheelchair.

He’s sued the big boys, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Toys R Us, Anthem, Sartini Gaming, Smith’s, Starbucks and Office Depot, plus many small restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores and others. One day he filed 23 cases.

Out of 274 cases, 22 businesses have settled with Zimmerman. The settlement terms and amounts were not revealed in federal court documents.

I was a supporter of the ADA even before I began pushing my mother in a wheelchair. But I’m suspicious of the merits of these cases.

The amounts sought are relatively low. One small-business owner told me he was asked for $3,900. A lawyer for a larger company said he heard cases were settled for around $7,500.

It’s peanuts for big companies, cheaper to settle than fight. Three Starbucks shops settled with Zimmerman.

But if 200 businesses settled for $5,000 each, that’s a cool $1 million.

Not bad for what appears to be a grind operation. The lawsuits are almost identical, except for the specific ADA violation alleged.

The small-business owner, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said he bought his business three years ago and assumed everything was in compliance. Last month he was sued by Zimmerman and was told there were three ADA violations: The hand soap dispenser was 4 inches too high, the handle to flush the toilet was on the wrong side, and the pipes under the sink were not wrapped.

He fixed everything within a few days. “I gladly fixed it,” he said, “People don’t want to be in violation in most cases.”

But he doesn’t think he caused Zimmerman $3,900 in damages, which is what he said Zimmerman wanted to settle. For him, that’s a month’s profit.

Paul Martin, who headed Nevadans for Equal Access from 1993 to 2014, had heard about this and said, “Somebody is looking to make a quick buck off the back of someone else.”

Martin said years ago the same thing happened in Florida, where activists filed masses of lawsuits to make money. News reports say the same thing is happening in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

“All it’s doing is undermining the credibility of legitimate cases,” Martin said.

His organization filed complaints, but they were moneymaking endeavors. His group’s efforts are the reason Las Vegas gas stations now have a pump that someone in a wheelchair can reach.

South Point is fighting back. The Zimmerman lawsuit alleged all aisles in the casino weren’t 36 inches wide and that there wasn’t a 60-inch wide access aisle in the parking garage handicapped spaces.

South Point attorney Barry Lieberman filed a motion to dismiss Zimmerman’s complaint, which alleges Zimmerman visited South Point and was “denied full and equal access and full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, services, good and amenities.”

The ADA “does not require that every inch of a facility be accessible. It does require that there be as least one accessible path within a site,” Lieberman wrote. Because Zimmerman was able to gamble at table games and slots, he had no injury. Thus, no damages, Lieberman wrote.

The ADA needs to be followed, and problems need to be fixed, but lawsuits like these seem to be motivated by cash rather than concern.

Zimmerman filed as a pauper to avoid paying fees.

But with 22 settlements through Wednesday morning, it seems he’s no longer a pauper — and that his attorney is raking it in as well.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays in the Nevada section. Contact her at jane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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