“Demanding Action: Austin’s ADA Lawsuit Industry”

May 13, 2016 

One disabled man and his attorney have papered Austin with nearly 400 lawsuits in the past year. The suits, all alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, have mainly hit small and medium businesses. And in nearly every case reviewed by KXAN, the defendants receive a demand letter asking for thousands of dollars in exchange for ending the lawsuit. KXAN’s yearlong investigation of this emerging ADA lawsuit cottage industry has resulted in a growing chorus of defendants questioning whether this attorney, Omar Rosales, and his client, John Deutsch, could be exploiting ADA law to benefit themselves financially. Our coverage has also contributed to one prominent ADA attorney’s emerging effort to end the lawsuits, which he said could have a detrimental impact on critical laws that protect the rights of disabled people. In its coverage, KXAN visited dozens of businesses and examined hundreds of federal court filings, including deposition transcripts, video and court exhibits. KXAN’s reporting on these lawsuits has been cited as evidence in a federal court filing.

This project included:
• Custom webpage created by KXAN for “Demanding Action: Austin’s ADA Lawsuit Industry” designed for mobile users
• Multiple video vignettes that include deposition video of the plaintiff and his attorney obtained by KXAN, interviews with attorneys and defendants in the cases, including the plaintiff’s attorney, Omar Rosales
• Interactive map with slider allowing readers to see when lawsuits were filed
• Interactive graphics and infographics
• Embedded court documents
• Photo collages of businesses impact by these lawsuits

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UPDATE: A federal court eventually sanctioned Austin lawyer Omar Rosales nearly $176,000 in penalties after he filed around 400 suits against local small businesses, claiming minor ADA violations, costing owners thousands and threatening their livelihoods. A year-long KXAN Investigation exposed Rosales’ behavior, as businesses banded together to bring legal action against him. The judge in this case has now referred him to the local federal bar disciplinary action committee, even suggesting that he might be disbarred from practice in federal court. In his order, the judge states, “…the issue is the abusive, disrespectful, and fraudulent manner in which Rosales has conducted this litigation…Rosales has behaved in embarrassing and shocking ways throughout this litigation.” During the course of our investigation, Rosales sued KXAN to stop our reporting, but it was eventually dropped after a legal fight. But soon, Rosales turned his sights on other businesses, claiming their websites violated the ADA. The new round of lawsuits and our reporting prompted a longtime civil rights attorney to launch the Texas ADA Defense Project to battle attorneys like Rosales in the future.

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Submitted by Josh Hinkle.

Headliners Foundation