In 2001, Lional Dalton won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. He started three games that season as a defensive tackle. A few years later, he earned more than $1.2 million in salary. But in 2006, Dalton succumbed to injuries to his spine and retired. Now, ten years later, his lawyers say he's become so debilitated that traveling around Fort Lauderdale is a daily chore.
So when Dalton encounters, say, a public restroom without handrails for the disabled, he sues. When he encounters sink handles that require "excessive pinching or grasping," he also sues. When companies fail to provide parking spaces for the disabled, he — guess what — sues.
As of Friday, Dalton had filed suit in federal court against at least 100 companies since December 16. That's roughly five suits a week.
According to court filings, Dalton has chosen to personally enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act. He checks virtually every establishment he enters to see if it complies with the law.
Individuals can sue businesses under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is a vital part of the law — often, disability rights advocates say, most businesses aren't aware they don't comply with the act. But since government enforcement is weak, advocacy groups claim the burden has fallen on them.
When Dalton sues, for example, he doesn't specifically ask for monetary damages. The complaints simply request that the business in question comply. But the suits do contain a provision that asks the judge to award "such other and further relief as it may deem necessary, just and proper."
Dalton's case highlights the surreal reality for players who've retired from the National Football League. In 2011, Dalton was one of 47 people who sued the NFL for hiding the risks concussions posed to players. That suit said Dalton "suffered multiple concussions that were improperly diagnosed and improperly treated throughout his career as a professional football player in the NFL." It added that he now suffers from memory loss, headaches, blurry vision, and ringing in his ears. After a nine-year NFL career, he now polices public restrooms.
Since December, Dalton has sued a brick-paving company, the Oakland Park Animal Hospital, a cabinetry store, multiple automotive supply stores, the Florida Lumber Co., a nail salon, and at least one florist.
A fraction of Dalton's suits have been settled out-of-court or dismissed. Most of the cases remain open, and it's unclear if Dalton has made any money from the avalanche of litigation. He is far from the only "tester" in South Florida.
On February 22, Dalton visited the Kreepy Tiki Tattoo Parlor in Fort Lauderdale and noticed there were no handrails in the restroom. He also found there was no coat hook, insufficient "floor space" in the bathroom, that the toilet paper dispenser was not "in the proper position in front of the water closet or at the correct height above the finished floor," and that the disabled parking signs were too low above the ground. He sued Kreepy Tiki on March 17.
Brittany Scott, the tattoo parlor's manager, said she had no idea what was going on when the parlor was served with a legal notice. Kreepy Tiki also operates a bar.
"We thought it had something to do with the bar, but it looks like he just went right into the tattoo shop," she said. "Specifically the bathroom."
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She said she'd heard Dalton had been serially suing people but didn't know much else about him. When told exactly how many suits Dalton had filed, she exclaimed, "Oh my God!"
Dalton's lawyers, however, stress that what he does is a necessary service for the disabled.
"He is experiencing barriers every day," says his lawyer Jessica Kerr, of the JM Advocacy Group, which represents disabled clients. "He experiences those barriers and is documenting them. Now, in the normal course of his daily routine, he might intentionally go to a Winn-Dixie instead of a Publix, but he's doing it to protect other people as a 'tester.' It's not a job. The position is a protected status that the law gives someone."
Dalton, through his lawyers, declined to comment.