Stillwater man files lawsuits against 26 Oklahoma City businesses

Monday, January 31st 2005, 10:41 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A Stillwater man has filed 26 federal lawsuits against Oklahoma City businesses alleging they are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

James Lawson, who has multiple sclerosis, also filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma City alleging the city does not provide accessible parking spaces, bathrooms, ticket windows and drinking fountains at State Fair Park.

``I'd just as soon not do the lawsuits, but I want to see the ADA enforced,'' Lawson said.

Tina Hughes, an assistant municipal counselor for Oklahoma City, said officials could have worked with Lawson if he had approached them outside a courtroom.

``If he had come to us with this list of things and said here are the violations we would have gone and checked on them immediately, but he didn't do that, he just sued us,'' Hughes said. ``The ADA doesn't require people to do that so they don't.''

Cinda Hughes, last year's Ms. Wheelchair America, has also filed three ADA lawsuits against Oklahoma City restaurants. The federal act allows individuals to sue for relief but not for monetary damages.

``It's not for monetary gain,'' Hughes said. ``I like to go to these places to eat. The intent is for them to spend $200 to $400 to open the bathroom door far enough to get in a wheelchair.''

The Oklahoma Restaurant Association has a warning posted on its Web site about attorneys in California, Oregon, Florida and Oklahoma City hiring disabled persons to seek out ADA violations.

Jim Hopper, the association's president, said his group supports the act but wanted to warn members of the possibility of unscrupulous, out-of-state law firms filing ``drive-by'' lawsuits. If businesses are found to be in violation, they must pay for their lawyers and property alterations, many times they have to pay the fees for a plaintiff's attorney.

``Multiple lawsuits with one plaintiff and an out-of-state law firm that is basically filed to enrich the law firm doesn't do a whole lot of good,'' Hopper said.

Gene Zweben, a Florida attorney who represents Lawson and Hughes, said his clients are not hired and are suing out of frustration.

``I finally got tired of people discriminating against me and others like me, so I finally did something about it,'' said Lawson, who uses a wheelchair.

Jeremy Tubb, a lawyer who represents two restaurants included in the lawsuits, said representing VZD's and Pearl's are working to make any economically feasible and achievable changes.

Lawson said he will continue to file lawsuits as long as businesses continue to ignore the act.

``If I go there and they aren't accessible to me, then I file a lawsuit,'' he said. ``I just cannot understand why after 15 years after the ADA was passed that so little progress has been made in Oklahoma to include all people, including people with disabilities, in community life.''