FORT LAUDERDALE – Former NFL star and Super Bowl champion Lional Dalton of the Baltimore Ravens sued over 100 businesses for federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations over a year ago.
After suffering injuries that affected his spine and ultimately ended his career as a multi-million-dollar-earning defensive tackle, Dalton became a regular in the federal courthouse for his dozens of suits against several Fort Lauderdale businesses for being out of compliance.
Those complaints were filed under the ADA, accusing the businesses of not being compliant with the structural and building provisions of the law.
Dalton, who was represented by attorneys from the JM Advocacy Group, filed the majority of his lawsuits in the first half of 2016.
“Mr. Dalton is no longer filing federal lawsuits under the ADA,” Jessica Kerr of the company that represented Dalton told the Florida Record. “He has not filed a lawsuit for almost one year now. I did not personally handle his cases as my former partner and a former associate at the old firm handled the ADA matters. I handled the consumer cases. I was aware of the representation of Mr. Dalton and the context, but I am not necessarily familiar with the specifics of his cases.”
Attorney Brett B. Trembly, the principal of the Trembly Law Firm in Miami, told the Florida Record that Dalton’s multiple suits are an “abuse” of the ADA that is meant to target businesses.
“[They] are trying to run a small business,” he said. “Small business is the backbone of our economy.”
Trembly said that the costs associated with becoming compliant or even fighting a case can be exorbitant for a business or property owner.
Just hiring an engineer to gauge whether a building is ADA compliant can range from $1,500 to $4,000 per consultation, he said.
“To hire an ADA-certified engineer to do a complete ADA inspection and report showing all potential minor and major violations, the price average is about $3,000," he said. "I've seen as low as $1,500 for a very small property where there are only one or two alleged violations. The bigger the building the bigger the cost.”
Trembly said that he served as the defense attorney representing businesses who were accused of being ADA noncompliant for many of these cases.
But the costs never stopped Dalton from wanting to file more and more lawsuits.
“Previously, he filed lawsuits when he experienced barriers to access,” Kerr said. “The purpose of the suit[s] is to seek enforcement of the ADA, which has been enacted since 1990 and later revised in 2010. The lawsuits sought injunctive relief, which means he requested the court require the business to comply with the ADA and make their businesses accessible to disabled persons.”
According to coverage on the series of lawsuits from the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, suits would be filed for even the slightest of violations of the ADA. As of the latest coverage, Dalton’s suits were targeting an animal hospital, several automotive supply stores, a florist and a brick paving company, among others.
Several of the cases, the coverage reports, were also settled outside of the courthouse, leaving the cases sealed entirely.
In an analysis conducted by Seyfarth Shaw LLP, ADA lawsuits increased by 37 percent nationwide in 2016.
Florida had over 1,663 lawsuits filed last year, falling second only to California with 2,468 lawsuits filed. This year, the Florida Legislature passed legislation giving businesses targeted by an ADA lawsuit the ability to voluntarily employ a state certified expert to identify ADA violation within their establishments. And, if the business is sued, it can file that analysis from the expert with the courts to work out a plan to address the violations.
Florida state Rep. Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) characterized the legislation to serve as a way to stop “drive-by” ADA lawsuits.
"The purpose of the ADA has been perverted by a small handful of law firms that have filed hundreds upon hundreds of these lawsuits against small businesses for monetary gain,” Leek said at a press conference in February.
Dalton was one of the 47 plaintiffs against the NFL in a 2011 lawsuit targeting the league for not releasing the known correlation between football trauma and concussions.
After leaving the NFL in 2006 after a stint with the Houston Texans, he concluded a career starting with the Ravens, the Denver Broncos, the Washington Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs.