Dirty Harry Takes On The ADA

In an attempt to help small-business owners challenge a rarely publicized provision of the 10-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which can cost owners thousands of dollars a week while they make changes to be in compliance with the act, Clint Eastwood has joined the fray. The former mayor of Carmel, Calif. -- best known for his tough-guy cop role of Dirty Harry -- has persuaded federal legislators, led by Rep. Mark Foley (R, Fla.), to sponsor a bill that would give business owners 90 days from the time a failure-to-comply lawsuit is filed to meet the ADA's access standards without incurring a financial penalty. The way the law is now written, once a lawsuit is filed, a business owner can be fined $275 for each hour it is open until compliance is achieved. That's $46,200 per week for a 24-hour business such as a hotel. Eastwood got involved after his historic 32-room hotel and restaurant, the Mission Ranch in Carmel, was sued and asked to widen entrance doors and make bathrooms more accessible to the disabled. Eastwood discovered that none of the fines collected go to the disabled individuals who file such lawsuits. Eastwood claims that he isn't opposed to compliance with the ADA. Indeed, his legislative effort won't reduce any of $577,000 fine he's been asked to pay. But he wants to stop trial lawyers from extorting money from small businesses by filing lawsuits without first asking the business owner to comply. Trial lawyers argue that escalating legal fees against business are the only leverage they have to get companies to comply. The House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the issue later this month.

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