UWS retailers face flurry of handicap access suits

Businesses are banding together to put a stop to the litigation, which can generate tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees
February 13, 2013 03:30PM

A Florida-based attorney named Ben-Zion Bradley Weitz has a number of Upper West Side merchants in his crosshairs: he has unleashed a volley of lawsuits on behalf of disabled clients, claiming the storefront businesses do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Crain’s reported. Since 2009, Weitz has sued more than 200 state businesses, the majority of which are in Manhattan, according to previous reports. Legal fees from the suits can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. But now, business owners are devising a way to fight back.

Merchants on Columbus Avenue between West 65th and West 87th streets are planning a united defense against Weitz and what they see as extortion from other attorneys. While addressing local business owners at a recent meeting on this topic, employment attorney Peter Panken said the problem comes with the legal fees involved.

“You will hear fees like $10,000 or $20,000,” he told the crowd. “And what has the lawyer done? He has a standard form complaint and he has taken two paragraphs to describe the particular store involved. It’s an hour of work.”

Plaintiffs in the cases generally earn $500 per suit.

But there is one problem: the bulk of storefronts along the stretch are in historic buildings, meaning that building a permanent exterior ramp could be difficult.

Advocates for disabled individuals who were also present at the meeting seemed to share the merchants’ ire.

“They’re completely undermining what we’re doing as a disability group,” James Weisman, general counsel for United Spinal Association, said at the meeting. “If you don’t band together, you’re going to get picked off one by one.” [Crain’s]Zachary Kussin