Op-EdAppeared in Washington Times on June 17, 2024By Alfredo Ortiz

The American Privacy Rights Act Exposes Small Businesses to Frivolous Lawsuits

As if they don’t have enough to worry about in today’s high-inflation, low-growth economy, small businesses face a big threat from proposed Congressional legislation called the American Privacy Rights Act.

The privacy bill is well-intentioned — it seeks to safeguard consumers’ personal information from businesses. No one wants their private information floating around the web.

But this bill uses lawsuits as an enforcement mechanism, meaning small businesses will sued into oblivion. Most small businesses don’t have the resources to pay lawyers to fight such drive-by suits and prove they did nothing wrong.

Congress doesn’t seem to understand that small businesses sign take-it-or-leave-it contracts with their online marketing, web development, and social media platforms. They do not exercise control over how these vendors maintain customer information.

Meanwhile, Big Tech, which has shown time and again it cannot be trusted with Americans’ private data, escapes accountability under the bill and receives blanket protection from liability. Tech companies claim they are just providing “services” to small local businesses.”

But what heartless people would financially devastate small businesses over a simple privacy records violation? Trial lawyers, that’s who.

Ordinary Americans, busy trying to make ends meet and balance work and family, may not be aware that countless law firms exist solely to find moneyed small businesses out of compliance with state, local, and federal law and target them with frivolous lawsuits. Their business model is bounty-hunting.

This legislation would only empower these parasites that feed off the country’s small business economic lifeblood.

We can see how this small business shake-down works in practice with another well-intentioned law called the Americans with Disabilities Act. This 1990 statute requires small businesses to make their establishments wheelchair accessible and fulfill other handicap-friendly criteria that most already follow.

Cue the locusts. Drive-by lawyers have sued small businesses tens of thousands of times for good faith and minute violations – or for those that never existed in the first place. Lawsuits have increased by more than 320% over the last decade. Sometimes “clients” in these lawsuits live in distant states and never even attempted to visit the targeted small businesses.

In one representative case, San Francisco restaurant Wun-Tun House was sued because its dining tables were not sufficiently wheelchair-accessible. Making the suit even more ridiculous: the eatery was closed for dine-in service due to COVID-19 and only offered takeout.

A small commercial property in Portland, Oregon, hosting a hair salon was sued because its wheelchair ramp was too steep and there was no specific handicap van-accessible parking. The law firm initiating this suit sued 35 local small businesses in a matter of months.

Bounty hunters targeted an entire block of businesses in Alameda, California, with Lola’s Chicken Shack sued for a lack of accessible outdoor tables and a high front door threshold. 

“To me, it’s extortion pure and simple,” said Lola’s owner Mark Rogers. “It’s only a win for somebody who is laughing at the court system, which isn’t right.”

Online businesses are also increasingly threatened if their websites can’t be used by the blind even though they lack federal guidance for how to comply.

The American Privacy Rights Act would only exacerbate this small business threat and further pad trial lawyers fat pocketbooks. Why then is Congress advancing it? Because lawyers are one of the biggest Democratic donor groups.  

According to Open Secrets, lawyers donated more than $250 million to Democrats in the 2020 election cycle. Democrats are counting on these funds and more to win the presidency and Congress. This legislation will help extract more money from Main Street to funnel to Democrats, with the lawyers taking their hefty cut along the way.

This bill must be stopped. Small businesses already face enough threats. The American Privacy Rights Act offers Members of Congress a clear choice: Do they stand for small businesses or trial lawyers? Their decision won’t be forgotten on Election Day.

Alfredo Ortiz is CEO of Job Creators Network, author of “The Real Race Revolutionaries,” and co-host of the Main Street Matters podcast.