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It's a law designed to protect those with disabilities, but lawyers say it's being used to make money

July 11, 2019 06:27 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — For months, New10NBC has investigated an explosion of lawsuits against businesses and schools claiming they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The law is designed to protect those with disabilities, but lawyers say it’s being used to make money and can actually make it harder for those doing true advocacy.

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Rochester is hosting the American Council of the Blind Conference and Convention all week. We wanted to know what they think about these lawsuits.

Eric Bridges, the executive director of the American Council of the Blind, is running the event.

"What we want is access," Bridges said. "We want access to everything that the sighted community has access to."

News10NBC told him about our investigations into the hundreds of lawsuits against malls, restaurants, schools, wineries, art galleries and their websites for violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

"It's a really, at times I think, an unsavory way to go about advocacy," Bridges said. "It's not necessarily helpful to us and at times, it looks as though the only individual that may benefit is the attorney."

News10NBC's investigation started in the spring when we learned about a man named Christopher Brown. 

In the past year, he has sued at least 18 malls and restaurants in Rochester and Buffalo. Federal records show he’s currently suing Eastview Mall in Victor, Elmridge Plaza in Greece and Southtown Plaza in Henrietta.

Every time his lawyer is Louis Mussman from Miami.

"These cases are about improving access for the disabled, not about money," Mussman told News10NBC.

But listen to what the former lawyer for one of the defendants, Southtown Plaza, says.

"And lo and behold we discovered that there were hundreds of other similar cases that were filed by the same attorney using the same plaintiff using the exact same forms," Scott Mooney with the Boylan Code Law Firm said.   

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "What did that tell you?"

Scott Mooney, Boylan Code Law Firm: "We knew right away that this was just a money grab."

Then we learned about Jason Comacho. Since the fall, he sued more than 50 colleges and universities, including RIT and Nazareth, saying their websites violate the ADA. His lawyer said it's about correcting a problem. 

According to the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, most defendants choose to settle out of court for thousands of dollars. So what is this doing to advocacy groups like the American Council of the Blind Bridges leads?

"The challenges that we experience in these mass — some people call them drive-by lawsuits — is that it can tend to obscure the work that we are doing and companies are at times a lot less inclined to collaborate with organizations like ours because they just been sued by 18 lawyers over one thing," Bridges said.

Every week News10NBC checks to see what's happening with these lawsuits. 

Nazareth and RIT settled their website cases; they won't say what they paid. One suit by Brown against a strip mall in Greece got dropped. Eastview Mall just countersued Brown.

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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