Access for all has its ups and downs
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990, requires full and equal access for persons with disabilities to places of public accommodation, such as public buildings, theaters, restaurants and the like.When the ADA was adopted I wrote a column applauding the new law. Like everything else, the devil is in the details. Implementing the ADA has resulted in plenty of lawsuits. Del Taco Patrick Madden parked in the south parking lot of the Del Taco restaurant on Alhambra in Sacramento. He proceeded in his wheelchair up the only ramp he saw. Access was blocked by a concrete trash barrel. His wheelchair went off the ramp as he tried to negotiate around the trash container.Madden sued Del Taco claiming a violation of the ADA. The trial court ruled in favor of Del Taco noting that the north entrance to the restaurant had a handicap-accessible ramp, and the concrete trash container on the south ramp was temporary. In fact it was moved right after Madden fell. A day late.The ADA requires that all ground-floor entrances to publicly accessible buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, unless as to existing buildings doing so would create an unreasonable hardship. Courts usually balance the costs with the benefits of bringing older buildings into ADA compliance.Handicap accessibleThe Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the trial court in an Opinion written by Justice Butz, considered one of the best appellate justices. Older cases found that if a pre-ADA building had one primary entrance accessible for the physically handicapped, the law was met. However, the Act also requires removal of architectural barriers to accessibility, like a trash barrel, except for isolated or temporary interruptions due to maintenance or repairs or sometimes bad weather like snow.The Court of Appeal found Del Taco deliberately placed the trash container on the south ramp, which amounted to a clear violation of the ADA. It did not meet the temporary interruption exception.Although not discussed by the court, the minimal cost of removing the trash container versus, for example a full accessibility remodel of the 1970s restaurant, probably was a factor in the courts opinion. A good decision.Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter-Simon. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://www.portersimon.com.
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