By Elena Kadvany and Sandy Brundage
Businesses up and down the Peninsula are getting to know one customer by name. A San Jose resident has filed lawsuits for alleged violations of the American Disabilities Act against at least six businesses during the past two-and-a-half years.
Gerardo Hernandez settled the suit he filed against the Dutch Goose restaurant in West Menlo Park for $64,000, plus the restaurant's agreement to make a laundry list of changes to its site to improve accessibility by March 31, according to federal court records.
The suit, filed in 2013 and settled nearly a year later, said that as a paraplegic, Mr. Hernandez found the designated disabled parking places in front of the restaurant "dangerously configured and constructed" and the access ramp too steep. Tables were not high enough to accommodate his wheelchair underneath, and the bathrooms weren't accessible at all, according to the filing.
Represented by attorneys from the Law Offices of Paul L. Rein, which specializes in disability litigation, Mr. Hernandez has also sued Taqueria El Grullense, Dairy Queen, Ross Stores, Round Table Pizza and, most recently, in December, Canada College and Canyon Inn. Settlements in the closed cases range from $10,000 to $53,000, based on court filings.
Mr. Hernandez's attorneys were not immediately available for comment.
In the case of the Dutch Goose, owner Greg Stern confirmed that the restaurant is in the process of making the required changes by the deadline, including converting half of the kitchen to an ADA-compliant bathroom, designating disabled parking spaces in back of the property, and raising tables.
"It hurts because insurance doesn't cover ADA unfortunately. There's just too much liability out there," Mr. Stern said. Having to pay out of pocket is having a huge impact on small businesses, he explained.
"When you're sued like this -- lawyers, improvements, settlement -- it's worth a million bucks," he said. "It's really just crippling. It just really hurts business. Again, we're all for ADA. It's a great thing to be accessible, but there's gotta be a better way to do it over time rather than overnight."
He said that San Mateo County had signed off on the restaurant previously, but the ADA "rules are so hard to follow."
The Dutch Goose, located at 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas, will likely shut down on April 1 to "tie together the improvements," with the goal of reopening in May, according to Mr. Stern.