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Lawmakers, Small Business Owners Introduce Bill to Prevent ADA Lawsuits

A Minnesota attorney who files lawsuits seeking quick settlements against small businesses for violating disability laws says new legislation introduced Thursday to prevent potentially abusive litigation is “silly.”

Paul Hansmeier has sued more than 100 small businesses in Minnesota for not complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).  

He has filed several lawsuits on behalf of the Disability Support Alliance, a nonprofit group that finds non-compliant businesses.

A report from last summer found Hansmeier sought quick settlements from businesses for thousands of dollars and made little effort to ensure the buildings were brought into compliance.

Amy Rowland was sued because of tabletops. The owner of the Bulldog N.E. in Minneapolis says Hansmeier sent her a letter in 2014 saying the restaurant did not have enough low table tops accessible to customers with disabilities. The tables that were low enough were placed in areas that discriminated against those same customers.

“(Hansmeier) sued me personally, he sued my landlord and he sued my restaurant,” Rowland said. “He made it very, very expensive for me.”

Rowland, who says her restaurant was in compliance with the disability access requirements, says she eventually settled the lawsuit for $8,500 to avoid paying even more in legal fees.

“This is someone taking advantage of a very big loophole in our legal system,” Rowland said. She testified before state lawmakers Thursday as lawmakers introduced a law that seems to be aimed directly at attorneys like Hansmeier.

One lawmaker even joked, “The suggestion was made that we make this the Paul Hansmeier Act.”

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce worked on the bi-partisan legislation with the Minnesota State Council of Disability and the Human Rights Department.

“We're really just trying to limit some of the litigation lawsuit abuse that's been occurring,” Chamber of Commerce Vice President Beth Kadoun said.

The legislation would give businesses at least 30 days to respond to lawsuits, shift the burden of proof in some cases to those filing the lawsuit and restrict attorneys from demanding immediate settlements.

In an email to us, Hansmeier said, “The Minnesota Chamber is obviously trying to show value to their members by introducing a silly bill that will not make any difference to the rights of people with disabilities whatsoever."

Hansmeier is currently facing disbarment or suspension for running a copyright infringement scheme involving a pornographic video.

A district judge in Hennepin County said last year that Hansmeier’s history reinforced concerns that the ADA lawsuits raised “the specter of litigation abuse."