New Minnesota Law Aims to Curtail Opportunistic Disability Lawsuits by Mandating 60-day Notice Period

New Minnesota Law Aims to Curtail Opportunistic Disability Lawsuits by Mandating 60-day Notice Period

On May 23, 2017, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed new legislation (H.F. 1542) that is expected to curb the growing number of plaintiff lawsuits in the state that allege non-compliance with the architectural accessibility requirements of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). The bill—which passed through the Legislature with strong bipartisan majorities and took effect on May 24, 2017—says that any attorney or person represented by an attorney can no longer bring a lawsuit alleging violations of the MHRA’s architectural accessibility requirements unless he or she first sends a notice to the business in question. That notice must specifically reference the law(s) alleged to be violated and the specific architectural barrier(s) and its location(s) in question, and it must grant at least 60 days for the business to respond. The bill also allows the business an additional 30-day extension of the notice period if there is disruptive weather and if the business provides the plaintiff a written explanation of the date by which the barriers will be fixed and the steps that it will take to address the issue. Nilan Johnson Lewis’ Matthias Niska, who helps employers on disability accommodation matters, notes that the law is designed to shield Minnesota businesses, especially the small, closely held companies that have become a common target of these lawsuits and often have no choice but to settle out-of-court rather than pay the costs of litigation. He explains that Minnesota is a pioneer in adopting this legislation, and other states, as well as the U.S. Congress, will be watching to see how effective the new law is in reducing abusive litigation in Minnesota. “The goal, of course, is to strike a balance,” Niska explains. “Legislators want to cut down on these frivolous suits while also making sure that plaintiffs can still enforce legitimate, serious accessibility violations.” While this legislation is likely to have a significant impact, Niska cautions that “Minnesota businesses need to be aware that the notice stipulation only applies to attorneys, and that individuals without legal representation are not required to give such warning before suing. Additionally, even if the business fixes the alleged barrier(s) during the 60-day notice period, business owners need to know that they could still be sued. One would hope that their exposure would be minimal, but it isn’t as if they are insulated from all liability.”

To speak with Matthias Niska on ADA compliance and other matters, contact him at 612.305.7727 or mniska@nilanjohnson.com

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