Some might consider Dean Hagler a crusader. But metro innkeepers hit with his lawsuits surely do not.
ATLANTA — "It's harassment for small businesses. It is totally and completely harassment," Chatur Chhabhaya told Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Jim Strickland.
Chhabhaya is one of dozens of operators Hagler has sued in the past year over the accessibility of their pools. Since changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2010, many hotel operators have installed pool lifts to make swimming pools accessible to guests with physical disabilities to stay federally compliant But some doubt the nobility of Hagler’s claims. “It’s more or less extortion,” hotel owner Moran Hari told Strickland. Hari, who is currently using a wheelchair while recovering from surgery, runs the Norcross Inn & Suites. He claimed he did have a pool lift but removed it for repairs. Hari and other hotel operators told Strickland Hagler has never been a customer. “He may have been around, snooping around, but he’s never been a guest of the hotel,” Hari said. Hagler has filed suits against motels all over the Metro Atlanta area. Most of their pools are outdoors and are only operational late May through early September. They’ve only been open 300 days since the ADA has required pool chair lifts. In Hagler’s lawsuits, he claims he visited each pool personally. That would mean Hagler would have visited a motel about every three days. “You’ve been to all those hotels, personally visited?” Strickland asked Hagler. “Actually, I’ve stayed at a couple of them,” Hagler replied. “[But] not recently. I have no driver.” “How many lawsuits do you think you’ve filed?” Strickland asked. “I don’t know. Fifteen. Twenty,” Hagler replied. In total, Hagler has filed 94 lawsuits. Most motels have paid to have the cases settled. “Are you saying this is a shakedown?” Strickland asked attorney Matthew Simmons. “Legally speaking, you could say that,” Simmons replied. Simmons has represented more than a dozen motel owners sued by Hagler. He said many of his clients did have pool lifts, but chose to settle with Hagler rather than pay for a court fight. “Blood money, that’s what this is,” Simmons said. The law does not award damages to plaintiffs, but their lawyers can collect legal fees. Simmons won’t say what his clients have settled for, but according to Law 360, settlements of $4,000 to $5,000 are not uncommon. Hagler told Strickland all the money goes to his attorney, Matthew Pope, in Columbus, Georgia. After Pope would not arrange an interview with Channel 2, Strickland traveled to Columbus to ask him about the ethics of his client’s claims. Strickland knocked at Pope’s office with no response and left a business card. When he visited the office the next day, the business card was gone and the office was locked. A man who exited the office rushed to a nearby Honda and sped away when Strickland approached to ask questions. But Hagler said his campaign and his motives are legit. “These hotel owners don’t like you very much,” Strickland told Hagler. “I don’t care,” he said. “They need to fix it.”
Cox Media Group