California, which led the country decades earlier in passing access laws, also has become a national hot spot of ADA controversy. The Golden State, along with at least six other states, allows plaintiffs to collect damages for access violations, making them an attractive marketplace for ADA lawsuits. The lowest damages are $50 in Colorado, with California's minimum the highest at $4,000.
There were 910 lawsuits in California's four federal court districts last year - nearly 80 percent of them filed by just 10 private attorneys or firms. Hundreds more have been filed in state courts. A few even have surfaced in small claims courts.
California's two busiest access lawyers in federal courts both practice in the Eastern District, based in Sacramento. Scott N. Johnson, a 44-year-old quadriplegic attorney from Carmichael, and Lynn Hubbard III, a 66-year-old attorney based in Chico, filed 277 federal suits between them last year.
No business is immune. Last year, suits were filed against Disneyland and the family-owned Grand Illusions magic shop in Carmichael. Marie's Donuts was sued in Sacramento along with numerous McDonald's statewide. A church, a carwash, and a cigar store were also sued.
Government entities and public schools were also sued. Those sued last year for access violations in California included the cities of San Francisco, Sausalito and Montebello; the San Francisco Symphony; the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; the Butte County Courthouse; the Tehama County Fairgrounds; and Bulldog Stadium at CSU Fresno.
The suits attack a variety of significant flaws: Steps leading into establishments. Doors too heavy for wheelchair users to open. Pay phones and counters that are too high. Parking lots without spaces for specially equipped vans, or no disabled spaces at all. Wheelchair ramps that are dangerously steep.
Other suits zero in on violations that don't involve accessibility. They target the wording on signs or the color they are painted. Some pinpoint discrepancies between federal and state standards. One suit against a major home improvement store in Elk Grove complained of no phone number on the tow-away signs.
The same plaintiffs appear again and again in many filings. Lynn Hubbard III of Chico filed 116 federal suits last year on behalf of only five clients, one of whom sued 35 businesses the length of the state. All 50 of Seal Beach attorney Stephen M. Padilla's access suits in 2005 were filed on behalf of two plaintiffs: Daniel Perea and Rosalinda Hernandez.