Dis­abled lo­cals’ law­suit on­slaught

New York Post - - NEWS - By MELKO­RKA LICEA

Five New York­ers in wheel­chairs are be­hind nearly 400 law­suits brought against small busi­nesses for lack­ing hand­i­cap ac­cess.

Such le­gal claims have been crit­i­cized as part of a “cot­tage in­dus­try” of “se­rial plain­tiffs” who tar­get mom-and-pop es­tab­lish­ments for quick cash set­tle­ments. But oth­ers see the suits as help­ing en­force the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act.

Wheel­chair ramps and bath­room doors are not the only bat­tle­grounds. Two blind New York­ers have taken the fight online, fil­ing a com­bined 23 suits against busi­ness Web sites that didn’t have screen-read­ing soft­ware for the vis­ually im­paired. And a woman cited seven busi­nesses for not al­low­ing her ser­vice dog in­side.

Zoltan Hirsch, 37, a dou­ble am­putee from Brook­lyn, is hell on wheels for those who fail to make their es­tab­lish­ments wheel­chair ac­ces­si­ble. Since 2010, he has filed suit against 195 busi­nesses rang­ing from a Soho eye­glass shop to Brook­lyn bode­gas and a Hell’s Kitchen restau­rant.

Four other New York­ers have filed 200 suits over wheel­chair ac­cess: Luigi Girotto (70 suits), Pe­dro Fon­tanes (55), Jerry Cankat (52) and Nauqone Tay­lor (23).

Fon­tanes, 69, of Queens, has filed 13 suits against busi­nesses along Fifth Av­enue in Park Slope be­tween Ninth and Ber­gen streets.

He claims to have suf­fered “harm” and “in­jury” at cafes in­clud­ing Le Pain Quo­ti­dien, Pizza Town, Un­cle Barry’s, SkyIce Sweet & Savory, Dizzy’s Diner and Kon­di­tori Swedish Espresso Bar.

At Kon­di­tori, he also griped that the bath­room mir­ror was too high.

Mark Caserta, di­rec­tor of the Park Slope Fifth Av­enue Busi­ness Im­prove­ment District, blasted the suits, say­ing: “This shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing. Small busi­nesses are al­ready strug­gling to stay afloat, and these law­suits could put them over the edge.”

Den­nis Kearney, an at­tor­ney who de­fended Un­cle Barry’s craft­beer bar against Fon­tanes this year, noted most de­fen­dants set­tle to es­cape the cost of lit­i­ga­tion.

“Why would some­body pay $100,000 in le­gal fees to go to trial when they can pay a frac­tion of that and be done with it?” he said.

Plain­tiffs typ­i­cally ask for mod­est da­m­ages but de­mand pay­ment of their at­tor­neys’ fees, which can top $20,000. Kearney be­lieves the plain­tiffs and lawyers split the fees.

Com­mer­cial Web sites are the newest lu­cra­tive le­gal tar­get.

Blind Brook­lyn res­i­dent Mar­ion Kiler, 66, sued eight sites through­out the state dur­ing May and June.

Among them was the Mu­seum of Sex’s online store, where she claimed to have made “nu­mer­ous” at­tempts to buy prod­ucts. The site’s wares range from nip­ple clamps to pe­nis-shaped pasta.

Ch­eryl Krist, 62, of Man­hat­tan, has brought seven suits against busi­nesses, in­clud­ing an East Vil­lage McDon­ald’s, for not al­low­ing her ser­vice dog, Bocci, in­side.

But Ken­neth Shiotani, an at­tor­ney at the Na­tional Dis­abil­ity Rights Net­work, called pri­vate lit­i­ga­tion the “most ef­fec­tive en­force­ment mech­a­nism” to make the city dis­abil­ity friendly.

LITIGIOUS: Zoltan Hirsch has filed 195 suits over wheel­chair ac­cess, and Ch­eryl Krist sued eater­ies for not let­ting her ser­vice dog, Bocci, in­side.

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