FEDERAL COURT FINDS LOS ANGELES DISCRIMINATES
AGAINST PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN EMERGENCY PLANS
February 11, 2011
LOS ANGELES – In a decision with possible national implications, a federal court has ruled that the City of Los Angeles violated federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, by failing to meet the needs of its residents with disabilities in planning for natural and other disasters.
It is the first such decision in the country.
The federal class action lawsuit, brought on behalf of all people with disabilities in Los Angeles, was filed in January 2009 by plaintiffs Audrey Harthom and Communities Actively Living Independent and Free (“CALIF”), a nonprofit independent living center located in downtown Los Angeles. U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall held: “[T]he Court finds that Plaintiffs are denied the benefits of the City’s emergency preparedness program because 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.” The Court also found that “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 Court ordered the City to meet with the plaintiffs within three weeks to prepare a proposal for remedying the violations.
Los Angeles is particularly disaster-prone and susceptible to a variety of emergencies, including earthquakes, fires, landslides and terrorist attacks. The City experienced and suffered from the massive Northridge earthquake in 1994, as well as wildfires in 2008 and 2009. Despite such disasters, the City lacks adequate disaster planning for people with disabilities, such as accessible emergency shelters, plans for providing services and medication at shelters, accessible transportation and evacuation assistance as well as communication services that are available and accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities.
Today’s ruling highlights a national problem evident during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when people with disabilities, including many seniors who were seriously ill, were left behind to die because of a lack of disability planning. Those tragedies prompted this action in Los Angeles.
Karla Gilbride, a Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) attorney representing the plaintiffs said, “We are pleased with the Judge’s decision to ensure that L.A., which is home to more than half a million people with disabilities, plans for the safety of all of its residents.” Sid Wolinsky, DRA Litigation Director said, “We cannot tolerate another Katrina when disabled men, women and children were neglected. DRA and Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) have worked with other cities such as Oakland and Richmond to develop emergency plans that include people with disabilities. There is
no reason why every city in this country should not be well prepared to meet the needs of disabled people.”
“The Court’s decision is not just a victory for people with disabilities and seniors but for all Los Angeles residents who need to know that our city is prepared when disaster strikes. These will be life and death issues for thousands of people with disabilities in the event of a major disaster,” stated Shawna L. Parks, DRLC’s Legal Director also representing the Plaintiffs. “We are hopeful that other cities will examine their emergency preparations as a result of this lawsuit to avoid the needless loss of life during any future emergencies.” Audrey Harthom, plaintiff and resident of Los
Angeles said, “As a wheelchair user who lives alone, I am relieved that L.A. will now consider the needs of its citizens with disabilities and that I will have a better chance of getting the help I need when the next disaster strikes.”
The court’s decision can be found at http://www.dralegal.org/downloads/cases/Calif/order.pdf.
OF NOTE TO FLORIDA RESIDENTS
Marc Dubin, former lead counsel of the ADA Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, now working with the Center For Independent Living of South Florida, and owner of the ADA Expertise website, has been very actively engaged in working on these same issues here in South Florida. For more information, go to firstname.lastname@example.org. (We are proud to have him as one of our treasured members!)
Steve Gold’s “Treasured Nuggets of Information”
Steve Gold is very informed and active regarding issues of Medicare, Medicaid and Home Health Care. He is a treasure trove of information, and we strongly suggest that you take the time to view his website at http://www.stevegoldada.com. In his April 2011 issue of “Treasured Nuggets of Information”, Mr. Gold looked at where the low-income housing tax credit money went. In most states not even 10% went to the disabled and elderly on SSI, those defined as “extremely low income.” Information Bulletin #329 (April 2011).
Another article of interest can be found in the May 2011 issue. Mr. Gold examines the interplay between state and federal law with respect to the California Nursing Practice Act and the ADA/Section 504. He comments on how that interaction can help or hurt those with disabilities.
Information Bulletin #332 (May 2011). Both articles are available in full at Mr. Gold’s website.
Steve Gold, The Disability Odyssey continues
Enjoy Mr. Gold’s wisdom online at http://www.stevegoldada.com.