By Mark Ackerman
DENVER (CBS4)– A Florida man has filed lawsuits against 66 Colorado restaurants and other businesses in the past year, claiming the businesses are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The 66 lawsuits were filed by Santiago Abreu and his lawyer Jason Weiss, both of whom have been linked to dozens of similar lawsuits in Arizona and Florida.
In the Colorado cases, Abreu dined at restaurants like the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Hapa Sushi in Cherry Creek and Mead Street Station in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood. In the days after the bill was paid, a lawsuit would follow, most often claiming the bathrooms did not comply with federal disability guidelines, which were enacted in 1980 to “prohibit discrimination” and ensure equal opportunities and access for people with disabilities.
The Riverbend Eatery in Bailey told CBS4 it was recently sued by Abreu.
In an email the owner Michael Abbondanza wrote, “These attorneys have created a nationwide cottage industry that is very lucrative and has nothing to do with helping the handicapped.”
Abbondanza said the lawsuit might force him to close his doors, “The attorney told me if I gave him $15,000 he will go away. I don’t have it. Thirty jobs in rural Bailey will be lost.”
Abreu’s lawyer, Jason Weiss, refutes the claim. He told CBS4 Abreu suffers from multiple sclerosis and comes to Colorado often for marijuana to treat his condition.
“He is an advocate,” he said. “His number one goal is compliance.”
Many restaurants have settled lawsuits with Abreu and can’t say if they’ve fixed the problems or not due to confidentiality agreements in the settlements.
Sonia Riggs, President of the Colorado Restaurant Association has received a number of calls from restaurants Abreu has visited.
“There are drive-by lawsuits happening all over the United States right now,” she said. “It’s suspicious when one individual who doesn’t live here is filing numerous lawsuits.”
Riggs says ADA guidelines are often confusing and even well-intentioned restaurants have trouble adhering to the guidelines. She says some members of Congress are trying to address the problem through legislation that would prevent people from suing without giving businesses time to fix the problems.
Kevin Williams, legal director for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, says businesses have been on notice to get into compliance for 26 years since the ADA became law.
“I am sick and tired of going to places to find they are not in compliance,” he said.
He says the role of a ‘tester’ is important to determine if a business is accessible and he hopes Abreu’s intentions are to create change.
“I’m not saying he’s an angel or a devil,” Williams said. “If he’s trying to create change, then hats off to him. If this guy’s motivation is to get money and not fix the problems than I have a problem with this guy.”