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CNN Today

ADA at 10: Critics Argue Law is Vague, Misguided

Aired July 26, 2000 - 2:24 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's estimated nearly one out of every five Americans has some sort of disability. Today marks the 10th anniversary of the federal law designed to protect the rights of those with disabilities.

President Clinton was among those on Capitol Hill earlier, marking the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA, as it calls, bans job discrimination, requires equal access to buildings and services, and requires transportation and telecommunications to be user friendly.

The aim is to provide equal access and opportunity, but critics argue the law is vague and misguided. Here's CNN's Jim Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attorney Mark Potter is no stranger to the federal courthouse in Riverside, California, neither is Cornel Botosen. Together, they've filed lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit.

MARK POTTER, LAWYER: Over 200, quite a few.

HILL (on camera): With yourself as the attorney and Mr. Botosen as the complainant?

POTTER: Yeah, I believe I've represented him on all his cases.

HILL (voice-over): In each case, Botosen sued a business claiming it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by having physical barriers denying him access.

Owners of this restaurant on Balboa Island say they had to close another facility because of a lawsuit by Botosen, even though they never saw their accuser, never knew of a problem until they were sued.

WILMA STAUDINGER, RESTAURANT OWNER: I never, never saw him, nor ever spoke to him. I still have never -- I've not seen this man.

SHERI GREWRY, RESTAURANT MANAGER: It's like being blind-sided. It's like getting in a car accident where you don't see anything coming.

HILL (on camera): Established in 1990, the ADA requires that there be free and equal access for the disabled in public accommodations, but it is something many of the disabled say is still begin routinely violated or ignored.

(voice-over): Political science professor Harlan Hahn is a Polio victim, disabled for more than 50 years.

PROF. HARLAN HAHN, UNIV. OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: I have to keep a little map in my head of what places I can go and what places I can't go. And a friend of mine said it's like being in the midst of a vast desert with only a few oasis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I should be able to be an independent person, and then placed to be a dependent person, it really, really dampens my spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not free to sit where I want. I'm not free to use the bathroom when I have to. I'm treated as a second- class citizen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They see you as just nagging and complaining unnecessarily.

HILL: But many small businesses across the U.S. are complaining about ADA lawsuits. Actor Clint Eastwood says he was hit with what he terms a broadside lawsuit, alleging denial of access in a hotel he was renovating.

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR/HOTEL OWNER: The same people perpetrating this over and over again, professional litigants, and it's just not fair.

HILL: Cornel Botosen declined to be interviewed about the large number of lawsuits he's filed.

(on camera): Would it be fair to call him a professional litigant?

POTTER: I don't know if you'd call it professional litigant.

HILL: Several hundred cases in a couple of years?

POTTER: He has a lot of cases, there's no doubt about that, and he's not shy about advocating that these places need to get into compliance.

HILL (voice-over): Owners of the Balboa Restaurant say the lawsuits are legal extortion. They say they settled out-of-court, paying Botosen an undisclosed amount, plus attorney fees, after learning it would cost them up to $60,000 to fight the lawsuit.

Attorney Potter confirms nearly all his ADA cases settle out of court for monetary damages and his fee.

POTTER: I would say about 99 percent.

HILL: To try and reduce the number of ADA lawsuits, one proposal before Congress would give business owners 90 days to fix an access problem before a suit could be filed.

REP. MARK FOLEY (R), FLORIDA: On the 91st day, if you haven't fixed your business issue, you have a problem, you can go to court and be sued, and you will pay the piper.

HILL: Businesses call it fair, but lawyers for the disabled call it one more hurdle for the disadvantaged.

Jim Hill, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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