Wednesday, January 18, 2006


They emigrated from Taiwan as boys, worked hard, kept close to family, and now - before either is 30 - they are stuck with a little lawsuit with big statewide implications. Bill and Sam Wu of Elk Grove have joined the burgeoning rolls of California business and property owners under siege by serial suers. In this case - and there are many - the Wus are the target of a prolific Carmichael attorney, who has filed more than 150 disability-access lawsuits since August 2003.

To some, Scott N. Johnson, who is quadriplegic and drives a full-size van with hand controls and a wheelchair lift, is a crusader for the disabled, busting businesses for violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. To others, he is an opportunist - the Wus say extortionist - who makes a fat living driving around town, scouring mom-and-pop operations for even the smallest infractions, then filing lawsuits and squeezing out quick settlements.

What's clear is this: California, as one of only a few states that allows for monetary damages and attorneys' fees in ADA cases, is seeing an explosion in disability-access lawsuits. And a huge chunk of those cases is coming from just a handful of plaintiffs and attorneys, people whose litigious track records have made many business owners - big and small alike - suspicious and wary of any disabled person who comes on their premises.

"This is Scott's way of making money," says Bill Wu, 28, who fixed the access problem last year on the family's commercial property in North Highlands, which had been deemed ADA-compliant by the county. But the Wu brothers don't want to settle for the $4,000 they say Johnson offered. And so they are fighting, navigating the complexities of the federal court system without law degrees.

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