Los Angeles News

Eyewitness News Investigation: ADA lawsuits questioned after serial plaintiff claiming emphysema caught on tape hiking

Friday, August 26, 2011

A man who has filed well over a hundred lawsuits against local small-business owners says he's an advocate for the disabled. His critics say what he does is harassment and extortion.

James Farkus Cohan says he's disabled with end-stage emphysema. He sues small businesses, claiming those businesses are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Cohan has filed at least 161 lawsuits.

"My building is in compliance and I still was sued," said small-business owner Betty Joseph.

"We've been sued by this guy on both buildings," said another business owner.

A number of business owners have been sued by Cohan. They met together at the Blue Room, a bar in Burbank that is also being sued by Cohan.

"Lawyers, the law. The whole kit and caboodle," Johnny Samarjian, who owns the Blue Room. "It's just a nightmare."

Eyewitness News caught up with Cohan after his daily hike up a steep hill near his Sun Valley home. He was hiking without a wheelchair, walker or oxygen tank.

Cohan was asked for an explanation as to how an end-stage emphysema patient could hike the hill without assistance

"Why don't you talk to my attorneys or doctors about all that?" said Cohan. He said he does have emphysema. "Yes, I do. Do you think I fooled all the machines and doctors about my condition?"

In a March 2011 lawsuit against a local business, Cohan submitted a form from his physician stating he has "end-stage emphysema." It's a condition he claims limits his ability to walk, work, speak and breathe.

Cohan said he does need a wheelchair or walker.

Eyewitness News showed the video to Glendale pulmonologist Doctor Eli Hendel.

"We consider end-stage emphysema those individuals that all the medications do not help," said Hendel. "Those individuals get put on a transplant list. And at minimum they need supplemental oxygen because their lungs cannot deliver enough oxygen to the blood to meet their needs."

At the trail, Cohan said he had an oxygen tank, but it was not with him.

So does Cohan make a living off these lawsuits?

When asked, he fired back with a barrage of racial epithets.

Cohan uses multiple attorneys. Two told Eyewitness News they no longer plan to represent him and have dropped their Cohan cases.

"It is an industry," said Pasadena attorney Jim Link.

Link has tracked Cohan's cases since 2007.

"Technically, legally they're all frivolous. And arguably, he could be subjected to monetary sanctions," said Link. "Arguably his attorneys could be sanctioned if they knew, which is frankly why they've dismissed all the cases."

Cohan demanded $10,000 from Burbank business owner Kevin Tanachian.

"I was about to pay him $3,000 to make him go away," said Tanachian. "I mean look at what everybody's going through, look at the hassle, look at the stress he causes everybody. He should be behind bars."

It turns out Cohan has an extensive criminal record. Most recently, he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms.

An ATF raid netted 34 guns, some of which were semiautomatics, and 31,000 rounds of ammunition.

When asked at the trail, Cohan stated he is not under house arrest.

However, he is. But probation officials would not tell Eyewitness News if the conditions of Cohan's house arrest allow occasional hiking trips.

Cohan other business is organ procurement: human organs for transplant.

Cohan confirmed he is still involved in organ transplants, but when asked, would not answer what the range of prices was.

But his website spells it out: $115,000 for a kidney; $225,000 for a heart, lung or liver.

At the Blue Room Thursday night, business owners cheered the Burbank woman who brought Cohan's "ability" to light.

"It was a scam, and it's like I knew it was," she said. "I could tell by the way there were so many businesses involved."

"It's very upsetting that the system is set up that somebody could do this," said Betty Joseph.

State Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) agrees that the law needs to change.

"This is kind of like drive-by lawsuits. It's the modern-day extortion," said Dutton. "SB 783, what it would have done is basically said, Hey, let's give everybody about 120 days to take care of these little problems before you can sue them. And it was really basically that simple."

Dutton's bill died in committee. But he plans to try again next year.

As for Cohan?

"I told you I do it out of the goodness of my heart because I'd like people to be in compliance with the ADA," said Cohan. "I don't make any money doing this."

It's unclear exactly how much money Cohan has made off his 164 lawsuits because settlements aren't necessarily part of the public record.

But we do know this: In at least 128 of those 164 cases, Cohan asked for and was granted a fee waiver by the courts.

That means taxpayer money is going to fund these lawsuits.

James Cohan has filed three more lawsuits since Eyewitness News took those pictures of him. The most recent filing was just three days ago.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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