KEY LARGO -- Over the last two months, a Plantation attorney has filed federal lawsuits against 13 Upper Keys businesses for not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Attorney Tal Shemtov, on behalf of a paralyzed Broward County man, has filed the papers in the Southern District Court of Florida. Shemtov did not respond to messages left at his office. Attempts to reach Lemuel Nelson, the disabled plaintiff in each suit, were also not successful.
"It's basically a lawyer looking to make a lot of money," said Mike Forster, part owner of the Rain Barrel in Islamorada, the only business outside Key Largo hit with a lawsuit.
Following the lawsuit, Category Three Bar and Grill owner Bill Burkhardt said he walked through his business with a local attorney to determine if he was in compliance.
"They shouldn't be able to do this," he said.
Both Burkhardt and Forster suggested the only winners in this whole situation will be the attorneys. Forster said his company has met with a Miami attorney who specializes in ADA compliance.
Others sued include Key Largo Conch House, Evelyn's Restaurant, the Yellow Bait House, Shell World (north location), both Marathon gas stations, the Florida Keys Gift Company, Key Largo BP, Tower of Pizza, Upper Crust Pizza and Key Largo Boat Depot.
Unhappy with the lawsuits, Key Largo Chamber of Commerce President Craig Cope said he has organized an ADA compliance specialist to meet with chamber members about the issue.
"This is something everyone should be aware of," Cope said.
In 2005, a similar raft of ADA lawsuits were filed against several Upper Keys businesses. Cope said these are tough for businesses that usually spend thousands of dollars in legal costs. The sweep from eight years ago also hit another of Forster's business.
Even with the recent lawsuits, Forster said he didn't want to play down the importance of businesses meeting the needs of disabled customers.
"I totally support [the ADA]," he said.
Burkhardt took some offense to being sued by someone he has never met or spoken with.
"There's no winning," Burhardt said of the lawsuit.
Some of the language in the court filings could intimidate business owners, including asking the federal judge to shut down the businesses until they became compliant.
According to court documents, Shemtov has not filed papers against any other Monroe County businesses.