Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt wants permission to protect the public from Kevin Zimmerman and attorney Whitney Wilcher’s “potentially malicious” lawsuits that use the Americans with Disabilities Act to rake in the dollars.
Zimmerman, who uses a wheelchair, has filed 275 lawsuits claiming his civil rights were violated by ADA design flaws in mostly small businesses. Soap dishes and towel dispensers are too high. A “Van Accessible” parking sign is missing. Dozens of design flaws are cited.
The attorney general asked a federal judge’s permission to consolidate the pending cases and allow his office to intervene.
Arizona and New Mexico already have moved to stop similar lawsuits in which one attorney filed multiple cases on behalf of one disabled person claiming ADA violations by mostly small businesses, such as franchise restaurants, as well as stores and big box businesses.
Wilcher filed 275 such cases in Las Vegas starting in January. He has settled about 100 claims. Some businesses just ponied up money to settle, figuring that’s cheaper than litigation. Some settled after the companies decided to fight the litigation and threatened to ask for attorney fees and costs.
I was outraged by what seemed like a money-grabbing operation rather than a sincere ADA claim. Since my two previous columns about Zimmerman I have heard from people with real ADA issues. I’ve watched videos of a disabled woman struggle to haul her walker up stairs in a state building, no less.
On Aug. 9, Senior Deputy Attorney General Lucas Tucker filed a request asking to intervene in the 157 unresolved Nevada cases, describing them as “potentially malicious, premature, poorly drafted, and failing to state a claim.”
The attorney general has a strong interest in protecting the public’s interest, Tucker argued.
But his first argument was technical. Zimmerman had not notified the Nevada Equal Rights Commission first, as required by law.
Tucker wrote the lawsuits “directly, adversely impact Nevada’s economy.”
Zimmerman claimed to be facing discrimination in “places of public accommodation” sometimes four or five times a day. Stores, restaurants, even casinos.
Tucker wrote that the “campaign of malicious or nuisance litigation will hurt hundreds of small businesses that cannot afford litigation or easily bear the costs of settlement.”
Tucker took a similar stance to my columns, writing that the lawsuits were “financially motivated, preying on businesses’ income, and, left undeterred, seek to serve as a roadmap for malicious or nuisance litigation, whose objective is to obtain monetary settlements rather than meaningful injunctive relief.”
He made a point I didn’t. The payments businesses make to Zimmerman and others trickle down to the consumers who may pay higher prices to cover the increased costs.
In other words, everybody could be ripped off as a result of this legal shakedown.
Wilcher didn’t respond to a request for comment. Zimmerman couldn’t be reached. Multiple requests to speak to Laxalt went unanswered by his communications person.
Similar ADA lawsuits filed by individuals seeking settlements have occurred all over the country.
Recent reports from the American Bar Association Journal said Omar Rosales, an attorney in Austin, Texas, who filed 385 ADA lawsuits on behalf of one person, has been fined nearly $176,000 and banned from practicing in federal court there for three years.
In New Mexico, a magistrate has recommended that 99 lawsuits filed by Sharon Pomeranz on behalf of Alyssa Carton should be dismissed and called them “a carnival shell game.”
Also, in one case where Zimmerman asked the court to allow him to file as a pauper, the court said yes, then no. So a company called Litigation Management and Financial Service paid the $400 filing fee.
So they were ripping off the court system as well as businesses. Not to mention you and me.
Quite the shady operators.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays in the Nevada section. Contact her at email@example.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.