Serial plaintiff Alexander Johnson has brought a federal lawsuit against a Miami gas station because it doesn’t have closed captioning on the television screens beside its pumps — an issue his lawyer Scott R. Dinin said is causing dozens of callers to contact his law firm.
As Johnson suffers from severe hearing loss, he’s not privy to the news and commercials streamed while consumers fill their tanks at the Chevron station on Northwest 42nd Avenue, owned by RSJ Investments. And that, Johnson’s lawsuit posits, is a violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA was enacted more than two decades ago to curb discrimination against people with disabilities, and according to Dinin, it’s outrageous that there’s still so much room for ADA lawsuits in South Florida.
“This is 2019. We all know a law was passed in 1990 saying any TV has to have captions available for it,” Dinin said. ”What’s going on? Why isn’t there some alternative? Why aren’t there captions?”
As Florida’s ADA doesn’t allow damages, Johnson seeks closed captioning at the gas station and reimbursement of fees and costs.
Counsel to the gas station, David Abrams of Abrams & Abrams in Miami, agrees that businesses should abide by the ADA but argues that closed captioning on gas station TVs is beyond what the act ever encompassed.
“I’ve read it backwards, forwards and upside down, and I don’t think that anything in the ADA … comes close to requiring video content on a gas pump be closed captioned,” Abrams said.
What’s more, Abrams argued, his client doesn’t have the capacity to add captions as the video content is controlled by Gas Station TV, an out-of-state media provider.
“(My client) can’t punch a button, he can’t pull a switch,” Abrams said. “The technology doesn’t exist for him to do it.”
In response to the lawsuit, GSTV has shut down its video content on the gas pumps, according to Abrams, who said it’s unclear what effect this could have on the litigation.
According to Abrams, his client won’t miss the video content.
“It’s not doing anything for them,” Abrams said. ”Nobody goes to a gas station because they’ve got good advertising on the pump.”
The station also happens to be across from Miami International Airport — not known for its quiet atmosphere.
“You can’t even hear the thing even if you wanted to,” Abrams said. “The planes go 50 feet overhead.”
As Dinin sees it, the problem isn’t just this one Miami gas station and its televisions. It’s that there are still so many glaring ADA violations in Florida.
“It’s not the fact that this TV right here is important if Justin Bieber is getting married or there is a snow storm coming, but what about if people don’t stop this practice with all the other TVs at other places?” Dinin said.
The way Dinin sees it, not being in charge of the TVs doesn’t necessarily mean the gas station can’t do anything about getting closed captioning.
“It’s your gas station. You bought these pumps and you allowed these (content providers) to do this,” Dinin said. “Someone’s got to send a message to these companies that they’ve got to provide captioning, or at least the option for when people want them. Because we’re living in a diverse society and the law is very clear on this point.”
The case is correlates with a prolonged trend in Florida, which sees thousands of ADA lawsuits every year, many filed by serial plaintiffs like Johnson.
According to electronic court records, Dinin’s client Johnson has brought more than 100 lawsuits in the Southern District of Florida.
Abrams said he’s pushing for a change in ADA requirements, arguing that people should give notice before filing a lawsuit, allowing businesses a short window in which to make changes and avoid unnecessary cost.
“I’ve been defending these for years, and I have yet to have any plaintiff or plaintiffs attorney call me up afterwards and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do an inspection. Did that bathroom get fixed?’ Whatever the alleged violations were, they never follow up,” Abrams said. “You throw X number of dollars at it and ‘poof’ it goes away.”
But Dinin is pushing for a different kind of change, incredulous that so many businesses still aren’t compliant more than 20 years after the ADA was introduced.
“The practice in this area is about mental attitude,” Dinin said. “We have all the tools and resources, so it’s just about attitude. But some people don’t care because they don’t have a deaf person or a blind person in their family or directly connected to them.”
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga denied the defense’s motion to dismiss and ordered mediation for the parties, who will meet on March 26.