Restaurant owner says he may have to close after being sued by d

Restaurant owner says he may have to close after being sued by disabled man

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At Meksiko Cantina, the ramp that leads to the restaurant entrance is too steep for a wheelchair and two parking spaces do not have adjacent access aisles. At Meksiko Cantina, the ramp that leads to the restaurant entrance is too steep for a wheelchair and two parking spaces do not have adjacent access aisles.
"I had to leave and go outside. There was no equal access," Michael McGrath said of the restaurant.. "I had to leave and go outside. There was no equal access," Michael McGrath said of the restaurant..
Navarro said if McGrath had talked first before suing, the ADA deficiencies could have been changed last year. Navarro said if McGrath had talked first before suing, the ADA deficiencies could have been changed last year.

By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator

FARRAGUT (WATE) - For more than 20 years, there's been a federal law that requires equal access to public places for people with handicaps.
    
The Americans with Disabilities Act serves a worthy cause, but there is no "police" to enforce the requirements.

A local disabled man got action, but his tactics left one restaurant manager with a bad taste in his mouth.

Mario Navarro offers authentic Mexican cooking at his restaurant in Farragut. He's been a popular chef at several Knoxville restaurants for a decade.

He owns and operates Meksiko Cantina now, but he's worried about its future.

In early January, he was sued for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA.

The plaintiff is Michael McGrath, who has muscular dystrophy. He visited the restaurant in May 2012, and claims he was denied safe and equal access.

Navarro says people with disabilities use his restaurant daily and there's never been an ADA complaint in the three years his place has been open.  

But Michael McGrath says he had trouble navigating in the men's room during his visit.

"When I got in there, I found out there was no accessible stall that I could fit into," McGrath said.

The stall in the men's room he says was too narrow to maneuver his chair.

So McGrath had to go to his car where he keeps an emergency urinal.

"I had to leave and go outside. There was no equal access," he said.

But Navarro said the customer never approached him or any of his workers about the issue.

"I never actually talked to the owner," McGrath said.

Navarro said if McGrath had talked first before suing, the ADA deficiencies could have been changed last year.

For instance, the ramp that leads to the restaurant entrance is too steep for a wheelchair and two parking spaces do not have adjacent access aisles.

Navarro said the lawsuit was financially draining.

"Really, I'm thinking it's better to close my business. It's too much of a big situation for me," he said.
    
Court filings show that since 2009, Michael McGrath has sued half a dozen restaurants both in Knoxville and Nashville, as well as Thompson Boling Arena at the University of Tennessee using the same attorney from Alabama who specializes in ADA cases.

"You know, I don't like to do it, but it's part of how the ADA is enforced," McGrath said.
            
Under the ADA, only people with disabilities can sue a business for equal access.

McGrath said he's not out for financial gain.

"No, no way. Never. Now, it is true the lawyers do get paid. But the plaintiff, no. I'm not allowed to. It's against the law," he said.

The Disability Resource Center in Knoxville has a team that checks restaurants for ADA violations.

Director Lillian Burch showed us a survey of two dozen ADA requirements used to help restaurants become complaint.

"We send them a letter and let them know what is wrong, and if they need assistance with us to help fix the issue, we will help them figure out what to do," Burch said.

Michael McGrath believes the resource center's surveys are ineffective because he says there is little follow up.

At the resource center, three dozen restaurants have been made aware of their discrepancies over the last two years.

Mario Navarro is now working with an architect trying to resolve the ADA discrepancies, hoping the fixes are within his budget.

"I want the place to be accessible for other people that come after me," McGrath said.

The ADA was enacted in 1990; Michael McGrath says businesses should know the rules by now.

McGrath says all of the businesses he's sued for ADA violations settled out of court. 


If you have a consumer issue, call the 6 On Your Side Hotline at 865-633-5974 or email ddare@wate.com.

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