A disabled Brooklyn Hasidic man has been waging a litigious war against city establishments which are sorely lacking in handicap accessibility. Zoltan Hirsch, who is a double amputee in a wheelchair, has filed 87 federal claims in the last year—36 in May alone—against businesses for a variety of violations which have prevented him from entering. But is it kosher for him to sue a non-kosher restaurant which he would never eat at anyway? Or a strip club where he couldn't get a private lap dance?
According to the Post, Hirsch has sued nearly everywhere from Brooklyn Dunkin' Donuts to Louis Vuitton in SoHo, from Midtown's Lace strip club to the Red & White Spa in SoHo. His lawsuits are often filled with precise descriptions of alleged violations inside, including bars that are inches too high, condiments that are out of reach, and bathroom towels inaccessible to a wheelchair user. But as the Post puts it, Hirsch generally just "rolls down the street, block by block, looking for places that can't let him inside"—and many businesses think its more exploitative than useful for other handicapped people.
"It's a shame that people are able to do this. It's really just extortion," said Dawn Cameron, owner of Sanctuary Tea in SoHo, who Hirsch sued last month claiming he couldn't get in the door. Cameron said there are two steps to reach the restaurant, and wheelchair users are helped inside when they come; but Hirsch's lawsuit could cost thousands in legal fees to fight, and potential ruin her restaurant.
According to other lawyers, Hirsch's lawyer seems to be exploiting the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows the payment of attorney fees. "These lawsuits are often intended for personal profit, not for the reason of ensuring access to places of public accommodation,"said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Southern California Republican who has proposed legislation against so-called "hit and run plaintiffs."
There is also criticism that Hirsch focuses his lawsuits on ritzy upscale neighborhoods such as SoHo, and not businesses in his own neighborhood Borough Park. He defends his right to sue the non-Kosher restaurants, or the strip club where he couldn't access the VIP rooms on the second floor: "It's my prerogative."