Mac McCormack, owner of two Richmond bars, was stunned when he opened his mail in February. He was named as the defendant in a lawsuit that alleged violations of a federal law that requires public establishments to be accessible to handicapped people.
The plaintiff, Kelly Narowski, charges in the suit that McCormack's Whisky Grill & Smokehouse in the Fan and another McCormack property in Shockoe Bottom violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. “I don't know who she is,” McCormack says.
The lawsuit is one of more than 100 that have been filed in federal court in Richmond against bars, stores and offices by Joel Zuckerman, a Maryland disabilities-rights lawyer, since 2007.
Craig Fabian, vice president of the Old Dominion chapter of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, says that the McCormack case is one of a new wave of lawsuits against Richmond companies that allegedly don't comply with ADA requirements that entryways be wide enough for wheelchairs and that bathrooms be accessible for the disabled.
“It's on the books,” says Fabian, who was paralyzed in a diving accident in 1969. He's been the plaintiff in about 30 such lawsuits handled by Zuckerman.
Zuckerman, a member of the Rockville, Md., law firm Maxwell and Barke, has filed similar suits against the Strawberry Street CafAc, Ukrop's Super Markets and Shackelford's seafood restaurant.
Brian Adams, a lawyer with Richmond law firm of Spotts Fain, who's defended many companies sued by Zuckerman, says that Zuckerman typically sends a letter to an establishment's landlord and operators stating that their facilities aren't meeting standards of the act. “Zuckerman gives them a set amount of time to respond and if they agree to make changes, he goes away,” Adams says. “If not, he sues in federal court.”
Kevin Mak, proprietor of Carytown Sushi, says Fabian sued him last year but agreed to settle. “We agreed to put in a separate door that can handle a wheelchair,” Mak says, adding that doing so will cost $10,000.
Zuckerman could not be reached for comment.