Portland Businesses Face ADA Complaints And Costly Legal Demands

In a concerning turn of events for small businesses in Portland, two local lawyers have initiated a wave of demand letters and lawsuits alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Attorneys David Foster and Jessica Molligan have targeted over 35 small businesses in the Portland area since September, leaving many owners shocked and financially burdened.

One such business owner, Mike Davis, discovered that his commercial building in Southwest Portland, which appeared compliant with the ADA due to its front entrance ramp and well-marked parking spaces, was, in fact, in violation. The ramp was too steep, and there was a lack of van-accessible parking. Davis’s situation reflects the experiences of other business owners who have fallen prey to the legal actions of Foster and Molligan.

In a written statement, Foster expressed his frustration, stating that despite the ADA’s existence and its requirements being well-known for decades, commercial property owners and businesses in the area continued to discriminate against disabled individuals. The alleged violations primarily revolve around technical aspects of the ADA, with the absence of van-accessible parking spaces being the most common issue. The dimensions of these spaces must be precise, painted, and accompanied by appropriate signage.

Many of the targeted business owners, when interviewed by local media, claimed they were unaware of any wrongdoing on their part. Some expressed a sense of being unfairly targeted, as they lacked the resources to mount a robust defense. The demand letters and lawsuits followed a similar pattern, employing boilerplate language and representing the same three clients.

The surge in litigation against businesses accused of ADA violations is evident in Oregon, specifically in the rising number of cases filed in federal court. In 2023, records indicated that 26 ADA cases unrelated to employment were filed against Oregon businesses, a significant increase compared to just seven cases in 2013.

Since September alone, Foster and Molligan have filed more than 35 ADA lawsuits against businesses in the Portland area. These figures do not account for the total number of demand letters sent, where businesses may have opted to settle to avoid litigation and potentially pay attorney’s fees.

Multiple small business owners who settled ADA cases after receiving demand letters from Foster or Molligan revealed that they were bound by non-disclosure agreements, preventing them from discussing the settlement terms and the amount paid in attorney’s fees.

The recent onslaught of ADA complaints and demands for substantial attorney’s fees serves as a wake-up call for Portland’s business community. It highlights the need for businesses, regardless of their size, to familiarize themselves with ADA requirements, conduct regular accessibility assessments, and take proactive measures to ensure compliance. Additionally, there is a growing concern about the potential financial strain placed on small businesses and the lack of transparency surrounding settlements in these cases.