Thursday, May 19, 2005

Serial ADA Litigation: The Good Side

See this article. Some excerpts:

To settle a lawsuit filed by a disabled resident, the city of Pacific Grove has agreed to spend $250,000 to remove architectural barriers and make other improvements over the next decade.

Mary Marques-Caramico sued the city and eight local businesses in 2003, saying they violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing adequate access for the disabled. Marques-Caramico has muscular dystrophy and gets around town in a motorized wheelchair.

Six of the eight businesses have reached out-of-court settlements with Marques-Caramico and another settlement is near, Marques-Caramico said.

* * *

The city agreed to spend $250,000 to:

Evaluate all city-owned lots and curbside parking on Lighthouse Avenue and develop a draft handicapped parking plan within six months.

Upgrade curbs and sidewalks in commercial areas and some mixed-use areas.

Provide paths in Washington Park except for the undeveloped areas.

Provide parking spaces for disabled and upgrade restaurants in the park.

Upgrade offices, meeting rooms and restrooms at the municipal golf course and provide parking spaces for the disabled at the golf course and cemetery.

Upgrade the exterior women's restroom at City Hall.

Improve access to the Old Bath House restaurant, which is owned by the city and leased to a private business.

Provide a suitable counter for the disabled at the Fire Department.

Train city employees and volunteers on accessibility issues.

Many of the proposed changes were presented to the City Council in October by a city advisory committee.

Marques-Caramico said the settlement is a good start.

"The city needs a lot of work, but with budget problems, I know they can't do everything," she said.

When the suits were filed in 2003, local media and some business owners criticized Marques-Caramico, comparing her to full-time litigants such as Jared Molski and George Louie.

Molski has filed so many ADA lawsuits across California that a federal judge declared him a "vexatious litigant" -- a person who files malicious or abusive lawsuits. One attorney countersued Molski, saying it was suspicious that he visited three restaurants in one day, allegedly suffering identical accidents at each.

Last year, Molski sued more than a dozen Monterey County businesses, including at least eight in Carmel and several in Monterey.

But Marques-Caramico's attorney, Keith Cable, says his client does not fall into that category, and her lawsuits arose from obstacles she encountered while trying to get around her own town. She has not filed other ADA lawsuits and says all payments she received in the local settlements were less than $5,000.

"She was made out to be a pariah," Cable said.

Marques-Caramico said she attended meetings and tried to get the city's ADA committee to respond to issues she raised, and filed suit only after she was ignored.

Mostly, she said, she sued because others can't.

"I think the way Molski and Louie are going about it is all wrong." she said. "But it is very difficult for people with a disability to fight for their civil rights. Many of them are ill or weak, so it's up to a few people who can handle it to change things. If a person has difficulty getting into a restroom, most disabled people will turn around and don't fight it."


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