Judge Gives Final Approval to Settlement That Dramatically Improves 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.

July 23, 2019 – New York, NY – Today, Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York approved a historic class action settlement that establishes a comprehensive remedial plan to dramatically improve sidewalk accessibility for New York City’s disability community.  For decades, the disability community – as well as all New Yorkers – has had to deal with inaccessible curb cuts, missing detectible warnings, and excessively-sloped ramps that endanger the safety of people with disabilities throughout the City. Judge Daniels complimented all parties for reaching agreement on a comprehensive remediation plan and said, “This is a major step towards full accessibility for all residents and visitors to the City.” Please see the settlement agreement below for more information.

“This agreement marks a turning point for New York City, allowing it to truly become the most walkable city in the nation, including for those who are blind or for those who use a wheelchair for mobility,” said Michelle Caiola, Disability Rights Advocates’ Managing Director, Litigation.   She added, “ADA-compliant sidewalks are essential for people with disabilities, but also benefit people pushing strollers, travelers with luggage, and those delivering packages.” 

The agreement requires a comprehensive citywide survey to identify which corners need curb cuts installed or upgraded, and a comprehensive schedule for completing the necessary work to make sure every corner in the City becomes accessible. An outside monitor will oversee the agreement.

The settlement resolves two separate class action lawsuits. The first was filed in 1994 and initially settled in 2002 by United Spinal Association.  The more recent case was filed in 2014 by the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) and two individuals who challenged the continued widespread dangerous pedestrian ramps in Lower Manhattan that were broken and crumbling, were too steep to navigate, lacked detectible warnings, contained high lips at the bottom of the cut, or led directly into potholes, among other barriers to access.  Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, LLP represented the Plaintiffs in that case.

CIDNY’s Executive Director, Susan Dooha, said: “People who are blind and people who use walkers and wheelchairs shouldn’t have to take their lives in their hands while crossing the street just to go to their jobs and classes or go out with friends or family.  Finally, almost 30 years after passage of the law that requires it, the streets of New York City will be safer because of these lawsuits.”

The long path to settlement received additional support from seven 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.

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

“I am proud to have worked with DRA and these great disability rights organizations to achieve this landmark result,” said Darin P. McAtee, partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. “This settlement represents a milestone following decades of advocacy from the disability rights community and will improve the accessibility of the city for all New Yorkers.”

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 www.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 Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP:

Sheppard Mullin is a full service Global 100 firm with over 800 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, visit www.sheppardmullin.com.

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.


Jelena Kolic (Staff Attorney, DRA): ‪332-217-2319‬ jkolic@dralegal.org

Jess Powers (Director of Communications and Education, CIDNY): 917-721-7699, jpowers@cidny.org