Federal judge rules LA emergency evacuation program discriminates against disabled people

[JURIST] A federal judge of the US District Court of the Central District of California [official website] on Friday held [summary judgment, PDF] that the city of Los Angeles violated the Americans With Disabilities Act [text] by not accounting for people with disabilities in the city's emergency disaster planning. Judge Consuelo B. Marshall [official website] stated that it is the duty of the city to anticipate the needs of its citizens in a state of emergency, and to minimize last minute, individualized requests by persons with disabilities. Marshall ruled that Los Angeles' emergency preparedness program fails to proactively address the needs of all of its citizens.

The City provides a comprehensive emergency preparedness program to the general public but it denies individuals with disabilities meaningful access to the program while the benefits of the program remain open and easily accessible to other residents. Because of the City’s failure to address their unique needs, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to harm in the event of an emergency or disaster. The City's practice of failing to address the needs of individuals with disabilities discriminates against such individuals by denying them meaningful access to the City's emergency preparedness program.
Shawna L. Parks, counsel to the plaintiffs, also stated that the decision is not just a victory for people with disabilities and seniors but for all Los Angeles residents who need to know that the city is prepared when disaster strikes. City officials have been ordered to meet with the parties that brought the lawsuit within three weeks to come up with a plan that better accounts for all. This is the first decision of its type in the nations history.

This federal class action lawsuit was brought on behalf of all people with disabilities in Los Angeles, which is estimated to be around 800,000 individuals. The complaint was filed in January 2009 by Audrey Harthorn and a nonprofit independent living center located in downtown Los Angeles, Communities Actively Living Independent and Free [official website]. The plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates [official website] and the Disability Rights Legal Center [official website]. Advocates stated that the need for a plan encompassing the disabled was highlighted during Hurricane Katrina, as mortality rates among the disabled and seniors were drastically disproportionate.

 

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