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Is Lawyer Fighting For People With Disabilities, Or Just Generating Cash Settlements?

(CBS) -- He claims to be helping the disabled by suing small businesses that are not accessible to the disabled. But some say instead of making the businesses comply, he's settling for cash.

CBS 2's Roseanne Tellez reports.

The owners of Club Lago admit they're not accessible to power wheelchairs. But they say a lawsuit against them smells bad.

The restaurant's attorney, Alexander Loftus, says the 1890s-era building meets requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act because the entrance is too close to the curb for a ramp, and a lift would be cost- prohibitive. He thinks the suit isn't about accessibility, but about money.

"Opportunist attorneys are using these suits as a way to generate fees," he says.

In fact, one lawyer, John L. Steele, has filed suits against Club Lago, Brett's Kitchen, Brehon Pub, Franklin Room and several others. CBS 2 tracked down two of the plaintiffs listed on the suits, who both reside at a single-room occupancy building, or SRO, on Chicago Avenue.

Mary Mazerk says she's suing at least 10 restaurants but was unable to list their names.

Loftus says many of them will undoubtedly settle, to avoid hiring architects and attorneys to go to court.

"It's a lot cheaper to settle than it is to fight," Loftus says.

But settling does nothing to help the disabled, one advocate says.

"Basically, the money changes hands from one pot to another, but the underlying accessibility problem is not resolved. And that's problematic. That gives the disability movement a bad name, frankly," says Ken Welden, an attorney for Access Living.

Club Lago plans to fight to the suit.

CBS 2 reached out to John L. Steele and his Accessibility Law Group but got no response.

There is no agency charged with ensuring ADA compliance. There are just a number of ways to complain about it, including by filing a lawsuit.

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