SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- There is a big liability for business owners that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars, and you probably don't even know about it. While you may think your building is completely up to code, you could be wrong. All it takes is one person to notice to land you in a legal nightmare.
"[Businesses] have no idea. They have no idea," said Jason Smith, a lawyer with Husch Blackwell.
Business owners in the Ozarks need to hear this warning, which Smith calls a perfect storm.
"I think the tide is definitely coming," he said.
Something changed in 2012 that could land you in a lot of financial trouble.
"It's a very big deal, when you have over 30 lawsuits in a two-year period of time that all relate to basically the exact same issue and no one is really talking about it," said Smith. "It's very surprising."
The issue concerns the American Disabilities Act: retrofitting your building for disabled people. According to Smith, things have recently changed concerning the law.
"All the grandfathering has gone away," he said. "Now you are in the position where you have a building that might have been built in the 1950s or the 1960s, before the ADA was ever evenenacted. Now they have to be compliant with the ADA guidelines."
Bottom Line: buildings that didn't have to comply with ADA guildelines because of the age of the building now have to. That means installing wheelchair ramps, elevators, handicap bathrooms, etc.
Those guidelines, when printed from the ADA website, come out to 275 pages. That's longer than "Fahrenheit 451," "Animal Farm," or "The Great Gatsby."
"A business that is not compliant could be looking at a combination of a number of things," Smith said.
If a person wins a case against a business, that business would not only have to pay to become ADA compliant but would have to cover the cost of its own lawyer and the plantiff's lawyer.
"There are many cases out there where businesses have spent tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars because of these lawsuits."
“Under the ADA, the plaintiff is not entitled to any money. They are not entitled to monetary damages,” Smith said. “They can force the business to become compliant. They can force the business to go in and fix things, bring things up to current guidelines.”
And, if you think you are covered by your insurance for a lawsuit concerning the ADA, Smith says you should think again.
"As a general rule, there's not going to be any insurance coverage for this. The business itself and the business owners are the ones that are going to be on the hook."