Judge Approves Settlement that Dramatically Improves Accessibility of New York City’s Sidewalks

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A curb cut on a street corner in NYC. The surface is missing big chunks of cement, making it very hazardous.
A curb cut on a street corner in NYC. The surface is missing big chunks of cement, making it very hazardous.

March 19, 2019  New York, NY – Today, Honorable Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York issued preliminary approval of a historic class action settlement that establishes a comprehensive remedial plan for drastically improving sidewalk accessibility for all members of New York City’s disability community.  For years, the disability community – as well as all New Yorkers – have had to deal with deteriorated curb cuts, missing detectable warnings and excessively sloped ramps throughout the City. Judge Daniels called it a “good result” and said, “Years in the future, people will be used to nothing else but accessible curbs in New York City.”

Michelle Caiola, Disability Rights Advocates’ Managing Litigation Director, said, “As pedestrians in this city, we rely on sidewalks every day. For people who are blind or using a wheelchair for mobility, ADA compliant curb cuts are essential for safety and convenient for those with strollers, luggage or delivering packages, too.  We hope to see New York become an example of a city that all can walk and enjoy equally.”

The core provisions of the agreement mandate a citywide survey to assess which corners require installations and upgrades and a comprehensive schedule for completing the work necessary to ensure every corner in the City becomes accessible. An outside monitor will oversee the agreement.

In carrying out the settlement’s terms, the City will set an important example for other jurisdictions across the country that struggle with ensuring meaningful sidewalk access for their local disability communities.

The settlement stems from and resolves two separate class action lawsuits: the first suit was filed in 1994, soon after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by Broach & Stulberg, LLP on behalf of United Spinal Association, n/k/a Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association. Initially resolved in 2002, the City agreed to spend a significant amount of money each year installing curb ramps throughout the City.  In 2014, a new suit was brought by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, LLP, on behalf of Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) and several individuals alleging the vast majority of curb ramps in lower Manhattan were not ADA compliant, were broken down or missing.

The settlement reached received additional support from eight disability rights organizations, represented by DRA and Cravath Swaine & Moore, LLP, that participated in the negotiation process and signed on to the settlement: American Council of the Blind; American Council of the Blind – New York; Bronx Independent Living Services; Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled; Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, Inc.; Harlem Independent Living Center; and United for Equal Access, Inc.

CIDNY’s Executive Director Susan Dooha said: “Sometimes, the way to get across the street is through the courtroom. For people who are blind and people who use walkers, and wheelchairs it shouldn’t be necessary to take your life in your hands while crossing the street just to go to your job, your classes, or go out with friends or family. Finally, almost 30 years after passage of the law that says so, safer streets are going to happen.”

According to Dan Brown, litigator and Pro Bono Partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, “Disability advocates and their attorneys have fought long and hard to make New York’s sidewalks accessible for everyone.  I am very proud of what we have all accomplished.”

“I am proud to have worked with DRA and these great disability rights organizations in achieving this momentous result,” said Darin P. McAtee, partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. “This settlement represents a milestone following years of activism from the disability rights community and will ensure a more universally accessible New York City.”

“We’ve been fighting for more than 25 years to ensure that people with disabilities who live in, commute to, and visit our City are able to navigate it safely,” added James Weisman, President and CEO of United Spinal Association and plaintiff class representative. “Missing and non-compliant curb ramps pose great, often insurmountable, barriers to people with disabilities as they go about their daily activities, including traveling to and from work, attending school, receiving healthcare services, seeing friends and family, and participating in a wide range of cultural and other events. This agreement provides for removal of those barriers in all five boroughs, and will set an important and effective example for jurisdictions that have not yet made their street corners accessible. We commend the City for working with us and taking the appropriate actions to improve accessibility.”

Robert B. Stulberg, Partner in Broach & Stulberg LLP, noted that “This landmark agreement will make it possible for people with mobility and vision disabilities in New York City to finally and fully exercise their basic civil right to cross safely from one side of the street to the other.”

The class notice will be widely circulated in the upcoming weeks via both newspapers and disability organizations’ emails list-servs.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA):

With offices in New York and California, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is the leading nonprofit disability rights legal center in the nation. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of 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 in cases such as Barden v. Sacramento, CDR v. Caltrans, and Ochoa v. Long Beach. For more information, visit dralegal.org.

About Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY):

The Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York is a leading advocate for people with disabilities in New York City. It was founded in 1978 to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community. In 2018, CIDNY reached more than 100,000 New Yorkers. For more information, visit www.cidny.org.

About Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP was founded in 1819 and is widely recognized as one of the world’s premier law firms. The Firm, which has 540 lawyers in New York City and London, has a long-standing commitment to improving the law and the legal system by counseling those unable to afford representation, addressing a breadth of topics ranging in size and type. For more information, visit www.cravath.com.

About Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP

Sheppard Mullin is a full-service Global 100 firm with more than 850 attorneys in 15 offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia.  Since 1927, industry-leading companies have turned to Sheppard Mullin to handle corporate and technology matters, high-stakes litigation and complex financial transactions.  In the U.S., the firm’s clients include more than half of the Fortune 100.  For more information, please visit www.sheppardmullin.com.

Contacts

Michelle Caiola (Managing Director of Litigation, DRA): 212-644-8644, mcaiola@dralegal.org

Susan Dooha (Executive Director, CIDNY): 917-415-3154, sdooha@cidny.org