- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A new Minnesota law is designed to give businesses some extra protection against what some say are excessive lawsuits over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The law is designed largely to curb the practices of one Minneapolis attorney, Paul Hansmeier, who’s filed more than 160 cases in the past three years, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Monday (https://bit.ly/1RGga8W ). By comparison, fewer than 10 cases were filed annually in the five years before Hansmeier’s first ADA case, said Beth Kadoun, a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce vice president.

Hansmeier’s critics say he’s targeting businesses over minor ADA infractions to make money. But he says that’s not true and that he’s increasing accessibility for the disabled.

“Most of my clients are people who very actively tried to get voluntary compliance … for years,” Hansmeier said. “No one paid attention to them … It’s not until they started bringing lawsuits that businesses started whipping themselves into shape.”

The new law provides additional defenses for businesses and outlines what must be included in letters sent to businesses before a lawsuit begins. The person sending the letter must include the exact violation and can’t demand money.

William Rust, a White Bear Lake architect and contractor, was sued by Hansmeier for a few inches’ difference between the ground and entrance of a building he’s owned since 1983. He added a portable ramp within weeks of hearing from Hansmeier. Rust was pressured to take a $3,000 settlement to avoid steeper fees, but he refused.

“I just feel strongly that this guy needs to be stopped,” Rust said.

Even Hansmeier’s critics agree his lawsuits have sparked a statewide conversation about accessibility.

But David Fenley, legislative coordinator with the Minnesota State Council on Disability, feared the lawsuits give the ADA a bad name. Fenley said he’s pleased with the new law.

“These demand letters just inform businesses of what they’ve got to be doing. You didn’t know, now you do, it’s time to fix it and move on. If we can do it without filing lawsuits, that’s great. But if we need to file, then we will,” he said.

House bill sponsor Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, said he’s pleased with the compromise signed into law, but said the issue is not settled.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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