Cities can worry a little bit less about unexpected litigation costs in their already-strained budgets after a federal court ruling at the end of March ended a 14-year dispute over street curbs and sidewalks in Riverside, CA. A Riverside man named John Lonberg, who uses a wheelchair, first sued the city in 1997 claiming its curbs were sloped too high and lacked dividers to allow disabled access. In the latest ruling, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled Lonberg had failed to demonstrate that Riverside as a whole is inaccessible to the disabled. A ruling in favor of Lonberg could have meant millions of dollars in liability for mandatory modifications.
Riverside’s City Attorney, Greg Priamos, was quoted in the Daily Journal saying the suit was “about money, not accessibility…The only hangup to a settlement earlier in the case was the amount of attorney’s fees. I’m offended by that.”
The lead counsel for Riverside, Greg Hurley, added, “Had Lonberg prevailed, there would have been an avalanche of lawsuits, because no city in the U.S. is totally accessible.”
Read more on the details of the case in the Riverside Press-Enterprise and Daily Journal (subscription required). Note the millions Riverside has spent over the past ten years to resolve the vast majority of its handicapped access issues, and the $221,000 Lonberg received in 2007.
The basic takeaway here, is that Riverside saved by this last judgement. By needing to prove that an entire city is not accessible, cities may be saved from an “avalanche of lawsuits”.
Nonetheless, entities in charge of public right of way should be aware that the ADA applies to them as Federal Civil Rights Law — requiring them to update their sidewalks even if their sidewalks preexist the ADA [New Jersey Protection and Advocacy, Inc. v. Township of Riverside, 2006 WL 2226332 (D.N.J.))].
This issue will be compounded in the near future when the access board, which is quasi-Federal agency to determine accessibility standards, is working on a Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines. Once this becomes law, you can be sure there will be a ton of lawsuits to follow as these guidelines explicitly apply to municipalities.
And of course, it’s been proven over and over that businesses are liable since the ADA has requirements that businesses must follow. As the economy gets worse, more and more people will be tempted by this on-going series of ADA lawsuits… so the avalanche for more businesses to get sued is bound to rise even more.
So GET COMPLIANT, either from us or from someone else.
Contact us for questions at 866 982 3212 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.