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Wine Country Businesses Beset by Rash of ADA Compliance Lawsuits

NAPA (KPIX) -- Napa wineries have been challenged by severe drought conditions for years but they're now facing something unexpected via the legal system: a rash of ADA lawsuits.

When Kevin Reid started reading the fine print that his family winery, Reid Family Vineyards, was getting sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, he thought it was a scam.

"Then someone came to the door and served them like a real lawsuit. We knew it was real," Reid said.

The Napa Vintners Association said that more than four dozen wineries over the past six months have been slapped with ADA lawsuits targeting non-compliant websites.

Even if part of a single web page cannot be translated by a screen reader for the visually impaired, that business can be held liable.

"This is happening to not just wineries but lots of small businesses and mom-and-pop shops," Reid said.

It turns out this small family business is a passionate advocate for those with multiple sclerosis. Kevin Reid has been using a wheelchair for more than six years.

"As someone who's disabled and relies on ADA compliance issues to make everything accessible, we need a national law that protects all businesses and gives them a chance to fix the problem and to become compliant," Reid said.

By recruiting serial filers, the law firm of Potter and Handy has collected at least $10 million in settlements, according to the San Francisco district attorney's office.

DA Chesa Boudin this week filed a civil suit against the firm, saying its business model is designed to "shake down" mom-and-pop shops.

So many of them, which barely survived pandemic restrictions, had to settle, saying that the expense of hiring attorneys and fighting allegations, would be too costly.

"I already paid $17,000. It was really hard for small business owners," said Amanda Yen of Hon's Wun-Tun House.

Eight years ago, the Reids kicked off an annual fundraiser that has raised more than half a million for multiple sclerosis research.

They settled this suit for $8.000 but believe lawmakers need to act.

"Right now, anybody can just come along and find something that doesn't work -- like a step in a store that needs to be fixed. They don't say 'Oh, fix this.' They say 'Here's the lawsuit. It's already been filed. Good luck,'" Reid said.

KPIX has reached out to Potter and Handy multiple times but the firm has not yet responded to our requests seeking comment.

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