Attorneys filing ‘drive-by’ actions catch attention of the House

By Chris Steller

People planning a lawsuit alleging an architectural barrier violates the rights of people with disabilities would first have to file a notice giving the business or place of public accommodation at least 60 days to remove the barrier.

That provision of a conference committee report on HF1542*/SF1407, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove) and Sen. Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud), would apply to people who hire or are lawyers.

The House passed the report 112-22 Thursday; the Senate 55-7. It now goes to the governor.

Smith said the agreement “increases access for people who are disabled and decreases losses [from lawsuits] that are frivolous.”

Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood) highlighted two areas where he said changes made the bill “much better.”

He said a provision that would allow businesses a delay if weather impedes them from addressing a barrier is now “very specific about what is going to happen.”

Rep. Dennis Smith

Another provision Fischer praised concerns people representing themselves, so-called “pro se” litigants. The bill would not require them to file a notice unless they hire an attorney within 60 days of filing suit.

When approved by conferees Wednesday, Scott Beutel, Department of Human Rights public policy director, called the agreement “a good compromise.”

Two others who use wheelchairs said they saw problems.

The 60-day notice period concerned Kim Pettman of Sauk Rapids, who said businesses often don’t respond to her complaints.

Dr. David Ketroser, a neurologist, attorney and bioethics graduate student, said architectural-barrier lawsuits he files are necessary in the face of “widespread disinterest.” Because he is the only attorney representing himself who pursues architectural-barrier cases in Minnesota, Ketroser said the bill’s notice requirement about such attorneys “might as well have my name on it.”

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