The Americans with Disabilities Act is an important federal statute – it ensures that those of us who have physical limitations are treated more fairly in places of business. In order to give the ADA some teeth, it allows private lawsuits to be brought against companies who fail to make their place of business accessible, but there’s been an unfortunate side effect to this: malicious “drive by” lawsuits, brought by those out to just make a few quick bucks.

The focus of these new types of lawsuits is invariably the same: the state of the parking lot of a particular business. Parking lots need to have a specific number of handicapped-accessible spots of a specific size, and if the parking lot for your business doesn’t comply with these guidelines, this opens your company up for violations that can cost you a pretty penny. How much are we talking about? A minimum of $4,000 in most cases, depending on both state and federal law.

Why Parking Lots?

Of all the things to get targeted, why in the world is it parking lots? The answer is rather disappointing – they’re targets of opportunity. Parking lots are easy to examine, as they don’t even require someone to get out of their vehicle or even having to enter your place of business. In some instances, you don’t even need to be behind the wheel – with high-resolution satellite images being added to mobile apps like Google Maps, you can count the number of parking spots remotely.

Meanwhile, parking lots are being targeted because the regulations controlling them were updated in 2010. Parking lots that have been untouched since before the change aren’t liable, but if you remodeled or repainted after the new regulations went into effect, you’re on the hook for not bringing your newly renovated parking lot up to spec.

Strict Requirements Make It Harder

It doesn’t help that the requirements outlined in the 2010 ADA update are pretty strict. It’s not enough to simply have the right number of handicapped-accessible spaces for your appropriately-sized lot – the new regulations are specific as to the number and type of these parking spaces.

For instance, it’s now a requirement to have a bare minimum of one van-accessible space. Lots that are designed to accommodate more than 25 cars need to have an additional standard handicapped-accessible space, and this requirement grows for every additional 25 parking spots. Lots with more than 100 parking spots follow even more specific rules.

Signage, Space, and Striping

There’s, even more, when it comes to how you can end up violating the ADA. Each handicapped space, for example, must have an accompanying access aisle. This aisle, usually found on the passenger side of the vehicle, needs to be at least eight feet wide for van-accessible spots. Standard car-accessible spaces, meanwhile, require a five-foot-wide access aisle.

Signage is regulated closely, and not just their height. The wording must be ADA compliant, up to and including warnings about being towed. Access aisles must be emblazoned with “No Parking” notices, and the traditional wheelchair sign used on the asphalt of these parking spaces must be positioned in such a way that it can be seen even when there’s a vehicle parked in the space.

Protect Your Business From Lawsuits

The worst part about all this is that if you haven’t updated your parking lot, anyone can bring an ADA lawsuit against your business. Take steps now to make sure your parking lot’s in compliance before it’s too late!