AAHOA Interim President & CEO
Protecting a small business is hard work, and every hotelier knows this first hand. Unlike large corporations that have a slew of in-house attorneys to help them make the very best business decisions, small business owners typically use their own discretion when making the calls that will affect the future of their business. But this can be risky. Navigating important business decisions without the expert opinion of a lawyer can potentially set the stage for unexpected and damaging legal issues down the road.
After working with AAHOA Members for 20 years as a franchise attorney, I know that hoteliers are often shocked when they learn that a lawsuit has been filed against them, mostly because they believe they’ve done everything by the book. With the mountain of obscure regulations to which hotels must adhere, along with the never-ending complexities of contract law that can affect everything from franchise negotiations to cable provider agreements, there are so many ways a hotelier can get themselves into hot water if they don’t consult the right legal counsel. And yes, the right kind of counsel is important. Lawyers are not experts in every area. The lawyer you used to help write your employee handbook is most likely not the best lawyer to help you close on a new property. The best thing you can do when it comes to legal counsel is to identify the attorneys in your area who specialize in various aspects of your business and be ready to contact them as you start or continue to build your business.
One major issue that continues to plague hoteliers across the country is the surge in ADA compliance lawsuits. For those hoteliers who don’t have legal counsel at the ready, the results can be severe. The ADA is intended to expand access for all Americans, but each year more and more unscrupulous attorneys and serial plaintiffs abuse the law to file frivolous lawsuits against thousands of small businesses under its Title III provision. According to law firm Seyfarth & Shaw, a staggering 10,163 ADA Title III lawsuits were filed in 2018. That’s a 34 percent increase from the 7,663 lawsuits filed in 2017. This is a growing danger for all small business owners and hoteliers alike, who, despite being in the right, often end up settling to avoid a costly trial. Having legal counsel that understands the ADA inside and out may be a safeguard against these serial plaintiffs targeting your hotel.
A common misconception is that hiring an attorney is far too expensive or not worth the cost. Great legal assistance, however, is truly an investment into your business’s future. Working with an attorney to ensure that every aspect of your business is legally squared away brings an invaluable return on investment. From trial lawyer fees to settlements, lawsuits are expensive, and these costs can take a toll on your business’s ability to thrive. A business beset with lawsuits can lose its status within the community and with guests. While you might not need an attorney’s opinion for every decision you make, it’s important to recognize that factoring a lawyer into your business plan from beginning to end can reduce the chances of a lawsuit being filed in the first place. As hoteliers, you are experts in hotel ownership and operations. You are not and cannot be expected to be experts in the law. Legal counsel is always best when it’s proactive rather than reactive, and taking that first step to seek assistance will help your business be prosperous for years to come.