Lawyer for Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities Quietly Files More Serial ADA Lawsuits Targeting Valley-Area Hotels and Motels
The lawyer for the controversial Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID), the organization that launched over a thousand nearly identical lawsuits against Arizona businesses last year, has quietly been filing a steady stream of new ADA lawsuits over the past month, targeting Valley-area hotels and motels.
For the past month, AID’s lead lawyer, Peter Strojnik, has regularly filed as many as three lawsuits a day on behalf of Valley resident Fernando Gastelum, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on apparent inspections of the defendants’ parking lots. The lawsuits, which are also virtually identical, all claim the disabled plaintiff tried to ascertain whether the defendant was ADA-compliant by first checking a third-party website, then checking the defendant’s website, and finally by calling the defendant’s front desk before visiting the premises to perform an ADA inspection. If the front-desk attendant indicated the lodging was ADA-compliant—as most do—the lawsuit then includes additional claims of negligent misrepresentation and fraud.
AZ Court of Appeals Offers Some ADA Relief
The onslaught of new lawsuits follows on the heels of the Superior Court’s dismissal of AID’s thousand-plus lawsuits, many of which were defended by Jaburg Wilk. Before dismissing the prior lawsuits, the Superior Court had entered an order precluding AID from filing any further actions without court permission. The cases are presently up on appeal to the Arizona Court of Appeals.
AID’s widely reported litigation tactics prompted legislative action at both the state and federal level, eventually leading to a change in Arizona’s disability laws to both require pre-lawsuit notice of alleged violations and to clearly eliminate an alleged loophole AID sought to exploit, a technicality AID claimed allowed it to file lawsuits on its own behalf as opposed to through a real person with disabilities. It is not clear whether and to what extent AID is involved in backing the new lawsuits.
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Federal ADA Compliance
Attorney Strojnik appears to have made some adjustments to his tactics to avoid some of the pitfalls AID encountered last year. The new lawsuits focus solely on the federal ADA, likely in response to the change in Arizona law. The lawsuits also specifically allege the plaintiff visited the premises and learned of violations, unlike prior lawsuits that merely claimed the plaintiff “became aware of” violations. And, of course, the lawsuits name actual disabled individuals as plaintiffs, unlike many of the prior lawsuits, where the complaints were filed on behalf of AID only. Notably, Strojnik’s son—of the same name—has also been filing serial lawsuits on behalf of Valley resident Theresa Brooke, claiming that hotels are in violation of the ADA for failing to provide a pool lift to wheelchair-bound guests.
It is not yet clear how the courts will react to the lawsuits after numerous judges reacted with hostility toward the exploitative litigation conduct last year. Business owners who thought they dodged a bullet by not being targeted by AID’s prior lawsuits are well-advised to ensure their parking lots are inspected and in full compliance with the ADA.
About the Authors:
Matt Anderson is an attorney and partner in the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk where he concentrates his practice on the defense of retailers, restaurants, and hospitality entities, and the defense of medical malpractice and health care matters. He also handles high-exposure litigation involving catastrophic injury, wrongful death, and professional liability. Heading their ADA defense team, Matt has defended all sizes of Arizona businesses in serial ADA accessibility lawsuits—from small local business to multinational companies. Matt can be reached at email@example.com and 602-248-1077.
Aaron Haar is an attorney at Jaburg Wilk, where he practices commercial litigation, including intellectual property matters and general business disputes. Aaron is a member of the ADA defense team and has extensive experience defending against serial ADA accessibility lawsuits. Aaron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 602-248-1000.