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Businesses hit with barrage of suits

Man files more than 90 actions, claims targets are not complying with disabled access laws.

August 26, 2011|By Maria Hsin, maria.hsin@latimes.com

Chalard Jiraceevee, the owner of Siam Motors in Burbank, received some shocking news in June.

He was being sued.

“They served me the papers, saying I need handicap parking, that the bathroom was too small for a person in a wheelchair, the toilet is too low, the sink is too small — a lot of stuff,” Jiraceevee said of the allegations in the lawsuit.

The only bathroom at his business is for employees, Jiraceevee said, and his company doesn’t advertise.

But it was too late. Jiraceevee had just become part of a growing group of defendants sued by James Cohan. This year alone, Cohan has brought more than 70 cases against Burbank and Glendale businesses alleging they are not complying with disabled access laws, court documents show.

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Under California law, at least $4,000 in compensation is allowed for each violation. Whereas federal law only requires property owners to fix violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, California is among a handful of states that allow for damages to be collected. Plaintiffs are not required to themselves be disabled, but Cohan has previously claimed such a status.

And that puts small business owners, like those targeted in Cohan’s lawsuits, at particular risk of having to shell out thousands of dollars on top of the cost of the actual construction.

According to James Link, an attorney who has successfully defended several Cohan-related cases, the lawsuits filed against Burbank business owners are just the latest in series of similar legal efforts.

Cohan is either involved in, or has filed, 94 lawsuits claiming disabled access violations through Aug. 8, including the 70 in the Burbank and Glendale areas, Link said.

When at least 20 pharmacies in Burbank and Glendale were being targeted in 2007, Link said he ended up with three of them because the same family owned all three properties.

“They were all by same guy, and I thought, ‘How many more are there?’ Bells and whistles obviously went off,” Link said.

Business owners who gathered Thursday night at a Burbank bar shared similar stories about Cohan.

Business owners said Cohan came in, made a small purchase and then asked to use the restroom.

Most business owners who saw Cohan remembered him because he did the “bathroom dance” — crossing his legs while bouncing up and down and saying he urgently needs to use the bathroom.

A few weeks later, they said they were named in a lawsuit for not complying with ADA guidelines.

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