SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — More help is coming to San Francisco Chinatown business owners who facing mounting legal fees from a series of lawsuits over compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Community leaders say the initiative, the American Disability Act Community Education Program, is the second phase of a legal defense fund it previously launched. It will help merchants by introducing community partners in conducting ADA business inspections where needed at no cost to the businesses.

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The program is now accepting appointments for the first 50 merchants.

Dozens of Bay Area businesses got slapped with lawsuits this past summer for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and all the lawsuits were filed by one disabled man, Orlando Garcia, who has also sued more than sixty other businesses around the same time.

The lawsuits allege ADA violations such as inaccessible front doors and restrooms. But critics say the lawsuits are frivolous and filed by predatory attorneys who shake down mom-and-pop businesses for cash to settle a lawsuit.

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In July, District Attorney Chesa Boudin said the lawsuits targeting at least 100 businesses are purely trying to exploit and extort small businesses.

Attorney Dennis Price, whose firm Potter Handy represents Garcia, said he is “an active ADA tester” and as such, he is not abusing the system.

“Without serial litigation, without these regular plaintiffs who are forcing these businesses to be compliant we simply would not have compliance with the ADA,” said Price. “Tester litigation has been around for decades. It’s the way that civil rights are litigated.”

California has the most federal ADA filings in the country with just over 6,000 in 2020 according to federal court data. It’s likely in part because California also allows plaintiffs to recover those civil rights damages.

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