Winery suits seem to be pointless, profit-driven |

Winery suits seem to be pointless, profit-driven

Lawsuits filed against four Nevada County wineries are likely to deepen the public’s cynicism about our judicial system, which many people already suspect is overflowing with unnecessary litigation.

What makes these cases so striking is that the litigation seems so pointless.

The suits involve the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which guarantees the disabled access to all public buildings.

An outfit from Nevada calling itself the Americans with Disabilities Advocates has sued the four wineries under the federal law and state laws seeking unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.

The group has kept the courts busy. Executive director George Louie has pursued more than 100 California wineries in court in the past year, citing such infractions as tasting bars that are too high and paths that are not wheelchair accessible.

The local wineries that have offended Louie and his group are Nevada City Winery, Sierra Starr Vineyard and Winery, Double Oak Vineyards and Winery, and Sierra Knolls Vineyards and Winery.

The litigation has kept Louie so busy, he has not even had time to contact any of the Nevada County wineries before filing the suits. For his part, Louie insists there is nothing to talk about anyway, because the wineries are, in his view, out of compliance. It’s sue first and ask questions later. Still, it would be nice to think that he would call them if he weren’t so busy suing everyone.

Wyn Spiller of Nevada City Winery said the business representatives considered themselves in compliance with the federal law, but would be willing to make any improvements they needed to, if they were not.

In fact, the wineries have worked with members of the disabled community to identify and correct areas where access was lacking, according to Ann Guerra, executive director of FREED Center for Independent Living.

Americans with Disabilities Advocates appears to be more interested in generating revenue through litigation than in helping those with disabilities, however.

In contrast, the Grass Valley-based FREED actually works to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

FREED, which also has an office in Marysville, offers peer support, home repairs and modifications, advocacy efforts, information and referrals, and access surveys of businesses to help them become more accessible.

Louie’s stick-without-the-carrot approach is likely to alienate businesses that would be more than happy to comply with the federal law and further inflame members of the public who are already fed up with the judicial system.

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