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Group Works To Keep Disability Lawsuits From Bankrupting Small Businesses

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Action is being taken to stop an attorney suing small businesses around Minnesota.

The suits claim discrimination against people with disabilities, but experts close to the cases claim the attorney seeks a payday through a settlement.

Now, the State Council on Disability and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to work on legislation to keep the focus on barrier removal.

A flurry of lawsuits filed against small businesses across the state caused the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to take notice.

"We'd like to see an opportunity for businesses to be in compliance instead of in court," Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon said.

WCCO first told you about the suits filed by attorney Paul Hansmeier in July. His law firm Class Justice sues on behalf of a group of people with disabilities, claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA's Accessibility Guidelines or Minnesota Human Rights Act.

"It's really critical that businesses take the opportunity to do the only thing that's going to keep them free from lawsuits, and that's get ahead of this," Margot Imdieke Cross of the Minnesota State Council on Disability said.

The lawsuits not only ask for barriers to be removed, but sue for monetary damages, and often seek a settlement for thousands of dollars. The move makes business owners and advocates question the motive behind the suits. As a result, the State Council on Disability and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce joined forces to find a solution.

"Right now the lawsuits occur with little or no notice," Loon said. "We're working on proposed legislation now that we hope will provide a fair notification process rather than an unfair lawsuit."

Both groups want to focus on accessibility and barrier removal by businesses in a fair and timely manner.

"I would like to see barriers removed," Cross said. "I would like for that to be done without businesses paying our large sums of money in attorney's fees."

The group is drafting language, looking for a sponsor and hopes swift action will be taken in the legislature. That would help businesses being sued in state court, but Hansmeier also sued federally.

The Chamber of Commerce says if needed, they'll look for a remedy there too.

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