Five Wheelchair-Bound Long Beach-Area Residents Sue City for Violating ADA
Cracked pathways. Uprooted trees in sidewalks. Inaccessible crosswalks. These aren’t just problems for the common citizen walking on two feet. They are also significant barriers to those who are mobility disabled—and the need for better pedestrian infrastructure, despite one’s opinion of the effectiveness of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has never been more apparent: five Long Beach-area residents are suing the City of Long Beach for violating the ADA in what could cost the city a small fortune should the plaintiffs decide to pursue treble damages.
The issue of deteriorated or simply horribly designed sidewalks is nothing new: outgoing 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske spent a year walking with district residents to identify sidewalks and crosswalks that were in dire need of repair. She eventually used over $800K in unhinged oil revenues to repair four areas throughout the 5th.
The class action suit was filed June 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California with the plaintiffs alleging that the City is discriminating against those with mobility disabilities due to the lack of maintenance of sidewalks and the lack of safety at intersections. These detriments to our pedestrian infrastructure then become detriments to the ability of disabled folk to get around.
“I’m frustrated that I cannot reliably travel around Long Beach in my chair,” said Signal Hill resident and plaintiff Hector Ochoa in a press release. “I often feel unsafe and it upsets me that people like myself who need chairs or other devices to get around don’t have the same freedom to go where they need to when they need to.”
According to nonprofits Disability Rights Advocates and Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), in addition to law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho—representing the plaintiffs—anyone in Long Beach with a wheelchair, motorized scooter, or other mobility device lack ADA-compliant pedestrians right-of-ways throughout the city. Ranging from compliant curb cuts to unsafe slopes at crosswalks, uprooted trees or deteriorated sidewalk sections, those with mobility disabilities are restricted in everything from getting to work efficiently to making visits with those they know restrictive.
Though municipalities across the country have been faced with dire financial issues, the legal supporters behind the plaintiffs claim that the laws binding ADA—which was put into place nearly 25 years ago—should have been dealt with.
“This litigation will require the city to make changes to its sidewalks that it should have made decades ago,” said Paula Pearlman, Executive Director of the DRLC in a press release. “It’s a shame that residents must litigate to ensure everyone has access to the fundamental civil right to travel freely and safely. We’re confident this case will bring justice for the mobility- disabled community in Long Beach.”
The ADA itself does not allow persons with disabilities to obtain financial benefits from suing businesses. However, two key Californian statutes, the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Acts—similar to laws in Hawaii, Illinois and Florida—do provide monies directly to plaintiffs in ADA-related litigation should they pursue them. Known as treble damages, plaintiffs are able to claim $4K per access violation in addition to lawyer fees and many, rightfully so, believe this leads to frivolous suits.
While it is unclear whether the plaintiffs will pursue treble damages—the lawyers and organizations representing the case did not return request for comment—it does remain clear that pedestrian accessibility is a key cog within a functional, healthy, urban city.
Surely, litigation brings a sour taste to many mouths but the implications for accessibility go beyond opinions about our lawsuit-happy society: the sightless or partially sighted, those not legally deemed disabled but may have functional or motor disabilities, people with extreme proportions, and wheelchair-bound citizens all mutually benefit from ADA-compliant public infrastructure.
The City of Long Beach does not comment on current and pending litigation.