President Obama's Department of Justice -- led by Attorney General Eric Holder -- has found a new way to make the Americans with Disabilities Act pay off for Democratic trial lawyer campaign donors.
Since the ADA first became law in 1990, the DOJ has been issuing "guidelines" that businesses must follow to comply with a multitude of the nation's civil rights laws.
For example, if a restaurant bathroom has a light switch that is 52 inches above the floor, then that business is in compliance. But if the light switch is 53 inches above the floor, the restaurant owner is a civil rights violator subject to fines from the government and liable for civil damages from any disabled individual who ever used the bathroom.
The DOJ has been issuing a growing wave of such guidelines over the years, reaching an ever larger portion of business activities. In September 2010, the DOJ issued guidelines for "recreational facilities," including a new rule that all public access swimming pools must provide a lift capable of moving disabled patrons from their wheelchairs into the water.
Compliance with the rule requires pool owners to have a lift for each "water element" in their facility. So if your local community pool also has a spa, both the spa and the pool must be "accessible." But if you have two spas, don't worry, only one lift is required.
In fact, most people in the swimming pool industry thought that one portable lift would be enough. Pool owners claim they were led to believe that, as long as they had one device that could be wheeled out whenever someone needed help getting into or out of a pool or spa, there would be no need intrusive permanent fixtures.
But then industry leaders began hearing rumors last year that Obama's DOJ would require permanently fixed lifts for each pool and spa. They began to write letters to DOJ asking for clarification on the issue.
On Jan. 31 of this year, DOJ granted the industry's call for a clarification: But it was not the answer they wanted. All 300,000 public pools in the United States must install a permanent fixed lift. The deadline for compliance is tomorrow, March 15. Call it "Poolmageddon."
There is no way all 300,000 pools can install permanent lifts by Thursday. There simply are not enough lifts in existence or enough people who know how to install them, according to industry spokesmen. Plus, each lift costs between $3,000 and $10,000 and installation can add $5,000 to $10,000 to the total.
So what happens tomorrow when a disabled individual checks into a Holiday Inn and finds no lift at the pool? The Obama DOJ has said it will not be enforcing the new guidelines right away. That means no fines from the government, for now.
But the ADA also empowered citizens to sue businesses that are not in compliance with DOJ guidelines. The result will be a huge payday for enterprising trial lawyers everywhere.
"The enforcement is going to be by litigation," said Kevin Maher, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association. "A lot of drive-by lawsuits against business by law firms that are set up file to file spurious ADA claims."
These firms "often file lawsuits against every business in the community. A lot of times they are not even looking for businesses to comply with the ADA, they are just looking for a quick cash settlement to go away," Maher explained.
Besides being expensive and impossible to install in time, permanent lifts are also a health hazard. Most hotel pools do not have a lifeguard and kids can access them unsupervised.
The permanent lifts will be a magnet for children to play on, and because they are not designed for that, odds are good that some will get hurt. But then again, each injured kid is just another payday for trial attorneys.
By the way, trial lawyers gave President Obama more than $45 million in 2008.
Have a nice summer.
Conn Carroll is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.