Santa Clarita Business Owners Attend Lawsuit Abuse Summit

Dozens of Santa Clarita Valley business owners and Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, met in Valencia on Friday to discuss how to handle small business lawsuit abuse.

The goal of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, or CALA, representatives who led the workshop, was to educate business owners on how lawsuits could impact their business and where they think legislation is headed.

More than 70 Santa Clarita business owners attended the seminar at Salt Creek Grille.

“(The event is) certainly about lawsuit abuse, but it’s also about the cost of litigations, the impact lawsuits have on our society and communities,” said Tom Scott, executive director of CALA. “We want to hear from business owners about how they’ve been affected, we want to hear from the assemblymember about his perspective being up in Sacramento dealing with the issue. To me, it’s really just trying to educate people more about how legal reform creates jobs.”

CALA representatives and Wilk talked about how lawsuits with the American Disabilities Act and theSafe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act can hurt and even close businesses.

“There are so many ADA lawsuits around the state. I have dealt with some people who have filed more than 2,000 lawsuits in the past year,” said David Warren Peters, CEO and general counsel for the California Justice Alliance APC. “It’s a big deal given that most of these lawsuits are often directed against very, very small businesses. I’ve probably represented a dozen donut shops and you have got to sell a lot of donuts to come up with the five-figure settlements that a lot of these lawsuits are seeking.”

The ADA prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation, according to the website.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, also known as Proposition 65, requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment, according to the Prop. 65 website. By providing this information, Proposition 65 enables Californians to make informed decisions about protecting themselves from exposure to these chemicals.

After the CALA representatives and Wilk gave their speeches, local small business owners were able to share their own “horror stories” about lawsuit abuse and give feedback to Wilk and the CALA reps.

“The fact of the matter is, we’ve got to grow our economy and unfortunately with the situation that we’re in, I don’t see anytime soon when we’re going to reduce taxes,” Wilk said, “so there are other things we can do to encourage people to invest in our state — whether it’s reforming workers compensation, reducing regulations, or doing tort reform.

“My goal today is to try to glean potential legislative ideas to introduce next session.”

More lawsuits are arising from the Internet from those who are visually impaired whose “computer readers” are not compatible with certain websites, Peters said.

“What’s going to happen is that we’re going to see a shift from the larger businesses to smaller businesses (in ADA lawsuits),” Peters said. “With ADA lawsuits, you physically have to go out to the properties, but with website lawsuits you can sit online and sue 100 businesses a day.”

The CALA officials and Wilk hoped the event would help to “create a more stable business climate that will encourage people to invest and hire people to work for (the small businesses), Wilk said.

“People talk about taxes, they talk about regulations but California’s business climate sucks,” Scott said. “So what are we going to do about it? One of those issues is improving California’s legal climate.”