For more than a year now, Paul Hansmeier has attempted to offset the losses generated by the flagging Prenda Law brand with class action lawsuits predicated on supposed ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) violations. Hansmeier isn’t suddenly a do-gooding social warrior seeking equitable treatment for disabled Americans. He’s just shifted the focus of his modus operandi. Hansmeier sues and sues and sues, offering out-of-court settlements to the defendants. This is money Hansmeier shouldn’t theoretically be able to demand, but he’s found a loophole that works for him.
In most cases, federal and state laws governing disability access don’t provide punitive relief. They can only be used to get property owners to correct shortcomings and to recover the plaintiff’s reasonable legal expenses. However, Hansmeier has been making claims under a Minnesota law that the property owners are committing a bias offense, which is a misdemeanor. In correspondence seeking a settlement with Peterson, he wrote that the law exposes defendants to a fine of $500 per incident, as well as punitive damages.
Using this, Hansmeier has demanded anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 from the businesses he’s sued. The end result has been some companies paying up rather than fighting back, while others have decided to cease doing business entirely. The 84-year-old owner of an antique shop targeted by a Hansmeier suit has closed her business as a result of his litigious actions. At the point it shut down, it was making around “$50 a day.” Now, the business is completely inaccessible — both to the disabled and non-disabled alike.