Litigation involving the Americans with Disabilities Act

Most litigation involving the Americans with Disabilities Act involves “architectural barriers” in the form of curbs/ramps, doors/entryways, or other physical barriers preventing a disabled person’s physical access into a business location.  A lesser encountered area of ADA litigation involves “accommodation” of a disabled person who has an impaired ability to effectively communicate with the business.  Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) applies to businesses which are privately owned and are open to the public.  Among other things, the ADA requires businesses to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled persons (sight impaired, hearing impaired, etc.) to ensure effective communication.

Much different from the relatively straightforward architectural barrier litigation (is there a barrier or not?), ADA litigation centering on the claimed failure of a business to accommodate a disability is much more situation dependent.  The issues addressed in ADA accommodation litigation vary widely based upon each case’s litigated facts and scenarios.  For example, in litigation involving informed consent for medical treatments and/or surgery, the business entity has a greater duty to provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure full communication.

Not only are there issues as to liability and reasonable accommodation, there are issues as to whether a plaintiff even has standing to bring suit in the first place.  One such issue is whether the disabled patron will return to the business that is alleged to be in violation of the ADA.  At least one federal court has held injunctive relief is generally not available for a single instance of a business’s refusal to provide auxiliary aids for communication.  A federal case interpreting the ADA addressed the elements of standing that are prerequisite to a plaintiff’s ability to seek relief.  In that case, the court held plaintiff lacked standing to seek injunctive relief because that plaintiff’s single visit to did not establish plaintiff was likely to return to that business establishment.

If a plaintiff can show standing, the exclusive remedies available to plaintiffs are injunctive relief and the recovery attorney’s fees and costs.  The ADA does not provide for the recovery of monetary awards to private plaintiffs upon their successful litigation of accommodation lawsuits.

The defense of accommodation cases under the ADA can be quite complex, and are certainly fact driven, but proper defense efforts many times will result in a motion for summary judgment being granted on behalf of a sued entity.  For more information, please contact Bryan Pyles.