Community Members with Disabilities Challenge Philadelphia’s Dangerous and Impassable Sidewalks
August 26, 2019—Philadelphia, PA—A class action lawsuit filed today in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleges that the City of Philadelphia discriminates against residents and visitors with disabilities that affect their mobility by failing to make its sidewalks and pedestrian routes accessible to people who use wheelchairs or are blind. Read the Complaint below.
Philadelphia’s sidewalks are riddled with barriers that are dangerous and difficult to navigate for people who use mobility devices, such as wheelchairs and motorized scooters, and people who have vision disabilities affecting their mobility. Some corners lack curb ramps altogether, while others have ramps that are so narrow, steep, or damaged that they are unusable. When a person who uses a mobility device encounters such a corner they must either back-track and find another—indirect—route, or undertake dangerous maneuvers like “jumping” the curb or traveling in the street alongside vehicular traffic.
Other dangerous barriers include sloping and crumbling sidewalks and crosswalks; unsafe alternate routes during construction; snow pile-ups that block people with disabilities from getting onto or off of the sidewalks; and objects blocking the pedestrian paths, including parked cars, sandwich boards, and outdoor furniture.
Despite being found liable for its failure to provide accessible sidewalks nearly 25 years ago in the landmark case Kinney v. Yerusalim, the City of Philadelphia has continued to shirk its obligations to provide curb ramps and accessible pedestrian routes whenever it resurfaces its streets or otherwise alters its streets and sidewalks. The City has also failed to make timely improvements to its existing sidewalks so that wheelchair users and blind pedestrians can safely travel throughout their city.
Plaintiff Liam Dougherty uses a wheelchair and resides in West Philadelphia. Mr. Dougherty said, “My wheelchair has tipped over on multiple occasions because of the disastrous conditions of Philadelphia’s sidewalks. As a life-long resident of Philadelphia, I find it particularly upsetting to see how Philadelphia disregards the needs of people with mobility disabilities like me. Philadelphia’s failure to create and maintain accessible paths of travel has made it difficult—and, at times, impossible—for me to go to work, school, and church, and has prevented me from being able to fully experience life in Philadelphia with my family.”
Thomas Earle, CEO of non-profit organizational plaintiff Liberty Resources, Inc., the Center for Independent Living serving Philadelphia said, “For years, we have been urging the City to fix its inaccessible sidewalks. It’s disappointing that so long after the passage of the ADA, Philadelphia still violates the civil rights of people with disabilities. We can and should do better to ensure safe, accessible sidewalks and street corners that are usable by everyone, including people with disabilities and seniors.
Meredith Weaver, an attorney representing Plaintiffs, said, “It is astonishing that the City of Philadelphia continues to ignore its obligations to provide accessible pedestrian rights of way, nearly 30 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and nearly 25 years after it was ordered to comply by a federal court. It is inexcusable that Philadelphia continues to deny residents and visitors with mobility disabilities the basic right of accessing the City through its sidewalks.”
“Getting around Philadelphia should not be at the risk of life and limb. There is no reason for allowing dangerous conditions to continue to keep anyone from safely crossing city streets,” said David Ferleger, also counsel in the case.
The lawsuit seeks to compel the City of Philadelphia to ensure that all individuals with mobility disabilities who need or want to travel through the City can do so safely. To ensure that sidewalks and pedestrian rights-of-way are fully accessible, the City must conduct an evaluation of its entire sidewalk system, and develop a schedule for remediation of all barriers with input from the community.
The class action lawsuit was brought by four individuals with mobility disabilities who live in Philadelphia and three non-profit organizations that advocate for people with disabilities: Liberty Resources, Inc.; Disabled In Action of Pennsylvania, Inc.; and Philadelphia ADAPT. Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a non-profit legal center that specializes in high-impact class actions, and David Ferleger, an attorney with decades of experience representing people with disabilities.
Liberty Resources, Inc. is the Center for Independent Living in Philadelphia, which advocates for and works with Persons with Disabilities to ensure their civil rights and equal access to all aspects of life in the community. For more information, visit http://libertyresources.org/.
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is a leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with all types of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases and has previously negotiated systemic sidewalks-related improvements with New York City; Sacramento, CA; Long Beach, CA; and the California Department of Transportation. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.
David Ferleger has decades of experience in resolving disputes for the benefit of thousands of individuals, as well as numerous organizations and government agencies. He has participated in numerous cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, including five oral arguments; served as a special master and court-appointed monitor for federal courts; and has taught at the New York University Law School and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. For more information, visit https://www.ferleger.com