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The Hospitality Industry Remains a Target of Lawsuits by Disability Rights Groups Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

March 2003

Dispelling urban legends about the Americans with Disabilities Act

The hospitality industry is under attack in a nationwide deluge of lawsuits by disability rights and other groups under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and related state laws. Hotels, restaurants, theaters, stadiums and other hospitality facilities are being sued on ADA claims. Unfortunately, most are unaware of alleged ADA violations until they are sued. 

In order to help you prepare and avoid these lawsuits, we address some of the most commonly asked questions about ADA litigation and dispel some urban myths about how disabled access laws apply to the hotel industry.

What is the ADA?

The ADA is federal legislation requiring removal of barriers preventing persons with disabilities from full and equal access to public accommodations (hotels). Owners and operators of most hospitality properties want to accommodate their disabled customers and often believe they provide “full and equal access.” Not necessarily so!

Why so many lawsuits?

Federal law provides for injunctive relief to stop ADA violations and payment of plaintiffs’ attorneys fees. Under California, Colorado and Florida law, plaintiffs can also recover actual, punitive and statutory damages. In California, the mandatory minimum statutory damages are $4,000 per violation.

If I rectify the problem, won’t they drop the lawsuit?

Most likely, no. These lawsuits are often about collecting damages, not just providing access to the disabled.

I own a hotel constructed before the ADA was passed and I have not performed any renovations, alterations or new construction.

You still must make “readily achievable” changes to remove architectural barriers which interfere with disabled persons gaining full and equal access. Readily achievable means easy to accomplish without much difficulty or expense.

My hotel was inspected and approved by the city’s building department.

You are still responsible for bringing your building into compliance.

I am a hotel operator — isn’t the owner responsible?

Under the ADA, the owner and hotel operator may both be liable. Neither the owner nor the operator can contract away liability to persons with disabilities. The parties can, however, allocate responsibility among themselves.

What should I do if I get sued?

Don’t fool around. Hiring a lawyer experienced in ADA litigation immediately will save you time and money.

What should I do now?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Get expert advice about the accessibility of your properties and act on it.

Could you pass this test?

Do people with disabilities have full access to your hotel, restaurant, stadium or other hospitality property as required by the ADA? Walk around your property and visualize what it would be like to be in a wheel chair, to have vision impairment or other disabilities. In order to rectify perceived abuses and force ADA compliance, a number of disables Americans have made a full time job out of visiting properties and going down a checklist for violations. The next thing you know, you have a lawsuit on your desk and need to call an experienced ADA lawyer. But prevention is always best. How would you measure up against some of these common complaints?

Common hotel access barriers include:

  • inaccessible parking; inadequate number and type of spaces; improper stripping and signage
  • inaccessible entrances and doorways
  • inaccessible check-in and check-out facilities
  • inadequate paths of travel into the hotel and/or to the rooms
  • inadequate number of accessible rooms by room rate, location and accommodations
  • inappropriate hardware; door view-hole not at wheelchair level; improper bathroom facilities; inaccessible closets; improper light fixtures; lack of listening devices; inadequate in-room work areas; ironing boards not at wheelchair level; lack of other in-room accommodations
  • lack of strobe emergency warning lights for hearing impaired persons
  • inadequate swimming pool access
  • inadequate accommodations for service animals
  • inaccessible laundry rooms
  • inadequate access in restaurants
  • inaccessible ice machines
  • inaccessible public restrooms
  • lack of training, policies and practices to assist persons with disabilities, including a list of amenities in the reservation system
Martin H. Orlick, a partner in the Real Estate Department of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro’s San Francisco office, has successfully litigated cases for hotels, restaurants, retailers, banks, wineries and other commercial property owners in more than 100 ADA suits. 

For further information on the Americans with Disabilities Act or related articles and background materials, contact Marty Orlick at [email protected] or 415.984.9667

The Global Hospitality Group® is a registered trademark of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP

©2003 Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP


For more information:
Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP
web site:
Email Jim Butler at [email protected]
Or contact 
Jim Butler at the Firm
 Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP
  1900 Avenue of the Stars
 Los Angeles, CA 90067
     Phone: 310-201-3526 
The premier hospitality practice
in a full-service law firm
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Richard Kessler's Grand Theme Hotels - Interview with GHG Chairman  Jim Butler / March 2001
Stephen Rushmore's  Industry Trends / Top Markets, Predictions & Opportunities  / Jan 2001
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Special Reports / Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP

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