This is how even the most well-intentioned laws go through three stages.
1. The ideal – This is what the law is supposed to do
2. The bureaucratic – The bureaucrats get hold of it and make into an incomprehensible morass of regulations that everyone is in violation of.
3. The lawyerly – The lawyers find every loophole in the law and begin cashing in
In California, most laws skip right to Stage 2 which is how things like this happen.
In 2012, Jon Carpenter filed 257 lawsuits in L.A. County — more lawsuits than there were court days — under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a civil rights law intended to give disabled people the same access to places that everyone has.
Carpenter has sued 94 pharmacies for everything from steep ramps and failure to remodel access areas to lack of Braille or hearing-assistance technology for the blind and deaf.
Carpenter’s hearing and vision, Peters says, were perfectly fine.
California is a rare state that lets people who allege an ADA violation personally win pots of cash in court — $4,000 minimum per violation, plus attorney’s fees, which can reach tens of thousands of dollars.
Small businesses can be sued if the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom is too high; the customer counter is too tall; aisles are too narrow; or the grade of their wheelchair ramp is steeper than 3 percent.
But in California, defense attorney James Link says, those regulations run about 435 pages. “I had one case where the coat hook in the men’s accessible stall at a P.F. Chang’s was too high.”
Carpenter and his current attorney, Potter, almost always target mini-malls or small businesses, which must create parking spots for special vans like the one he drives. They also must provide parking lot space for a wheelchair to be lowered, and special signage. Get a detail wrong — even the color of the sign — and Carpenter can sue for $4,000 and up.
“We didn’t know that we needed a parking spot for a van,” says Avi Hadid, owner of a mini-mall at Western Avenue and Washington Boulevard. He settled with the convicted child abuser for $10,000 — cheaper than hiring a lawyer.
The convicted child abuser thing is how Carpenter became a paraplegic. Carpenter injured himself to escape prison after molesting a number of 8-year-old girls.
In the 1980s, Carpenter was arrested on multiple counts of aggravated sexual abuse and charged with molesting two 8-year-old girls. He was set free after serving less than two days of a one- to- 15-year sentence.
Rather than cover his health care costs, the prison dumped him assuming that he was no longer a threat to anyone. But then he got taxpayers to subsidize his lawsuit spree.
Disabled plaintiffs routinely ask L.A. Superior Court judges to grant them “fee waivers” to get out of paying the $435 court filing fee. Taxpayers pick up the costs, even for convicted felon Jon Carpenter.
So what’s more profitable? Disability lawsuits or drugs?
“California is the only jurisdiction on the planet that has minimum financial damages for claims of this nature,” Peters says, referring to the $4,000 floor. He estimates that 42 percent or more of the nation’s ADA lawsuits are filed in California. “There are lawyers who have moved from other states just to file these lawsuits here,” he says. “It’s more profitable than [selling] narcotics.”
Leave it to the government to really stimulate that economy.