Chester businessman says attorney looking for ADA violations
A Chester business owner said last week that his business was the latest target of a predatory attorney looking to cash in on possible Americans with Disabilities Act noncompliance.
M&M Mini Mart owner Bill Cofer said the situation began when a woman in a wheelchair supposedly arrived in a specially equipped van and then entered his business to shop.
“This woman in the handicap van is making her rounds of Chester and other Plumas County communities as well as neighboring counties in the North State,” he said.
“Following her visits she sends a letter of complaint to both the business owner and her attorney in which she states that the store shelving, ADA parking and restrooms did not accommodate her as she tried to shop,” he said.
Cofer said the attorney then requests $4,000 in compensation for the woman and $2,500 in attorney fees.
“This attorney claims the woman was in my store twice so he is demanding $4,000 for each visit and his fees,” he added.
Cofer said he hired Certified Access Specialist Mike Gardner of Portola to review his ADA compliance and said he has since made several changes.
“I purchased a new toilet as the original was 1 inch too short and I lowered the soap dispenser and mirror. I also learned my designated parking space did not have the proper grade so I moved the ADA space to the front of my business,” he said.
In addition to the cost of the ADA changes he made to his business, associated expenses keep escalating.
“The specialist cost $800 and I’ve had to pay a $2,500 retainer to hire my own attorney. I figure the situation will cost at least $15,000 by the time I am done,” Cofer said.
He said he learned how widespread the alleged scam had become when he talked with his supplier, Redding Oil Distributor, a company that has been in business for 75 years.
“In addition to being advised by Redding Oil that my business insurance may or may not cover my costs, I also learned that my distributor had also been a victim of the same attorney.
“I was told the disabled woman had visited five of the company’s stations and the cost to my supplier is $100,000 so far,” Cofer said.
He said he just didn’t know how anyone lets this happen.
“There isn’t anybody in Chester that doesn’t want to help people in their store,” Cofer said.
“I am worried about the other businesses in town. We are probably the most compliant business in town,” he said.
Cofer said he added a dining room to the business in 2006 and was inspected and approved by Plumas County officials.
“If I had known then that other changes were needed I would have gladly made them,” he said. “We have received letters from other disabled shoppers who have been happy with their visit to the M&M. My staff and I always greet everyone who enters the business and we always ask the customer if they need any help,” he added.
Cofer said he believes the attorney is helping to lay the groundwork for a federal lawsuit by lawyers who are targeting businesses for potential ADA compliance issues.
This situation was first reported in the April 2 issue of the Portola Reporter.
During a March 26 City Council meeting, Gardner made a presentation in which he warned the city about the ADA operation and talked about the situation Cofer is dealing with in Chester.
Gardner told the council members, “Cofer had been sued for more than $75,000,” and then offered his opinion that “the attorneys don’t want to take the cases to court; they’d much rather settle for $10,000 – $25,000 and move on to the next business.”
Gardner specializes in ADA compliance and will be working with the city to evaluate its compliance.
“It’s a lot cheaper to fix something than to go to court,” Gardner told the council members.
What is the ADA?
In 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a civil rights law that defines and prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities.
The law sets compliance standards in the areas of employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities.