The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most important civil-rights laws ever passed by Congress, and it is critical for all hoteliers to understand their responsibilities and to respect its requirements. Many visitors to American hotels have disabilities and expect hoteliers to appreciate the importance of laws enacted to protect and accommodate them. Over the past several years, hoteliers have become subject to lawsuits claiming violations of the ADA and often do not know where to turn.
Should your hotel find itself the target of a lawsuit alleging you are in breach of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your first impulse may be to panic and throw money at the problem. After all, the ADA was passed to benefit disabled travelers, and your hotel may be facing steep fines and a damaged reputation if these accusations hold any weight.
It is important to understand the motivation behind any lawsuits targeting your hotel. Some plaintiffs and their lawyers are on a mission to test whether a hotel is accessible to disabled travelers and will be satisfied with appropriate steps taken to improve the property. In other cases, they are driven by prospects for quick settlements, having no desire to truly identify any barriers to access at the property. In some states, states like California, plaintiffs may be awarded monetary damages in ADA lawsuits, meaning these accusations are often an expensive proposition.
FACING THE FACTS
We recommend hiring skilled legal counsel to assist you in fighting a meritless ADA lawsuit, particularly someone with extensive experience successfully navigating ADA cases.
In addition to physical barriers, hotels must also be aware of accessibility concerns lying dormant on their websites. Websites must include appropriate accessibility for seeing and hearing impaired guests and display requisite content to describe the facilities and accommodations. Hoteliers must also provide an option to reserve accessible guest rooms in the same manner in which persons without disabilities reserve rooms.
Hoteliers ought to pay close attention to this requirement to ensure your guests can access your services and to protect your business. Disabled travelers often contend with uncomfortable conditions in airports and during car rides to your property. When they arrive on site, they expect to check into the accessible room they chose when booking, just like every other guest.
This brings us to the aspect of ADA lawsuits that is most often glossed over or forgotten amid hiring legal defense, which is the potential damage to your reputation. In the current social-media climate, a noncompliant hotel may wind up with a lawsuit, a meeting with the Department of Justice, a bad Yelp review, and a spot on a blacklist by disabled travelers who share information on the Internet.
DEFENDING AGAINST ADA LAWSUITS
So, how do you mitigate this risk? First, you should do everything you can to ensure your property complies with the ADA. Next, if you do face a lawsuit, hire a capable lawyer and an experienced access specialist to survey your property and website. Assess your options and compare reports with a variety of sources, if possible. Without the research and input from trusted experts, it can be difficult to defend your business and livelihood.
Hoteliers should also create a detailed list of policies and procedures for your property to follow to remain compliant with the ADA. If the Department of Justice comes to visit you regarding an ADA violation, this will be the first thing investigators ask for, and it should be written down.
Ultimately, you are responsible to ensure your hotel complies with the ADA and your guests will appreciate your consideration of this important responsibility. If you are sued however, you can rest assured that there are experienced professionals who can help protect you and your business.
If you find yourself the target of an ADA lawsuit, remember to:
- Take a deep breath.
- Take the accusations seriously.
- Hire a skilled lawyer who knows his field and will hire great experts.
- And, most of all, don’t ignore these issues, or they will get worse.
Martin H. Orlick is chair of the ADA Compliance & Defense Group at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP (JMBM). His 30+-year practice focuses primarily on real estate transactions and litigation. He is experienced in counseling and defending clients with respect to ADA claims and defending against Department of Justice investigations and complaints. His ADA practice includes counseling businesses on the full spectrum of ADA compliance, including policy and procedure manuals and website accessibility. Marty has represented the nation’s largest financial institutions and hotels in corporate real estate litigation, class actions, and ADA cases. He is a member of JMBM’s Global Hospitality Group.