UPDATED: Five Wheelchair-Bound Long Beach-Area Residents Sue City for Allegedly Violating ADA

2:35PM | According to Ben Rockwell, one of the plaintiffs in the case, the suit is a strictly injunctive lawsuit, meaning the plaintiffs are not seeking treble damages.

9:30AM | Five Long Beach-area residents are suing the City of Long Beach for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in a litigation case that could cost the city a small fortune should the plaintiffs decide to pursue treble damages.

The issue of deteriorating or simply poorly 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 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. 

“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. Problems ranging from non-compliant curb cuts to unsafe slopes at crosswalks, uprooted trees or deteriorated sidewalk sections restrict the safe travel of those with limited mobility.

Though municipalities across the country have been faced with dire financial issues, the legal supporters behind the plaintiffs claim that the laws binding the 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 coverage of legal fees. Many believe the availability of monetary compensation in these cases leads to frivolous suits.

It remains unclear whether the plaintiffs will pursue treble damages as the lawyers and organizations representing the case did not return request for comment.

The City of Long Beach does not comment on current and pending litigation.

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