New York Federal Judge Approves Class Action Status In Emergency Preparedness Lawsuit

New York, New York – November 8, 2012 – Late yesterday, a New York Federal Judge granted class action status to a lawsuit that challenges New York City’s failure to address the needs of people with disabilities in its planning for large scale disasters. The lawsuit, which has been pending since September 26, 2011, alleges that the City does not effectively account for 900,000 New Yorkers with disabilities in its planning for major disasters, which puts all people with disabilities – including seniors, veterans and children with disabilities – at mortal risk during emergencies, like Hurricane Sandy.

The Court’s ruling is extremely timely coming so closely in the wake of Sandy. Advocates and lawyers involved in the lawsuit have announced that in the hours leading up to and after Sandy struck New York, people with disabilities were directly confronted with the City’s lack of disaster planning for this population. The City failed men, women and children with disabilities on a number of fronts, including:

  • Evacuation: The City fails to have a clear evacuation plan for people with disabilities and accessible transportation to get them to safe areas. For example, Access-A-Ride, New York City’s paratransit system for people with disabilities, was shut down for outbound trips a full seven hours before the rest of New York’s public transportation system. Its shutdown was almost simultaneous with the City’s evacuation order, eliminating an important transportation option for many people.

  • Shelter: The City fails to ensure that the designated shelters are accessible to people with disabilities.  The City also makes no arrangement to provide this large group of New Yorkers with critical disability related supplies.

  • Power Outages: The City fails to plan for how they will evacuate persons who need power to survive, or who simply cannot use the stairs in a widespread, and long lasting, power outage.  For example, the City did not provide direction to people who rely on electricity for life sustaining equipment even during Hurricane Sandy, when it was highly likely that a power outage would occur. It also failed to provide guidance or assistance to people in multi-story buildings who would be stranded by elevator stoppages.

The Court will be asked to rule on the merits of the case, as the case is set to go to trial on March 11, 2013.  The class of more than 900,000 members is composed of all people with disabilities in the City, including people with sensory, mobility, cognitive and mental health disabilities. The class is represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law center with offices in California and New York City, which specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.  The Plaintiffs are people with disabilities and disability organizations who charge that the City has failed in its obligation to plan for this population.  The named plaintiffs are Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID), Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY), Gregory D. Bell and Tania Morales.   

Susan Dooha, Executive Director of the Center for the Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY), one of the organizational Plaintiffs in the suit, commented: “We’ve been warning the City for years that it is woefully unprepared for the needs of people with disabilities during an emergency. The City’s response during Sandy demonstrated again – a year after Hurricane Irene – that major problems still exist. And this is what happens when the City has days of warning. We can’t wait for people with disabilities to get hurt or die to see change. We and our fellow plaintiffs in this case represent New Yorkers with disabilities who need change now.”

Jean Ryan, a New Yorker with a disability who uses a wheelchair, expresses feelings shared among many New Yorkers with disabilities. Ms. Ryan said: “I’m afraid I might die in an emergency because I won’t get the emergency assistance I require.”

Shawna Parks, Counsel for Plaintiffs and Co-Director of Litigation at Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), commented: “The kind of planning and response we have seen from the City on this issue cannot stand. To see failures like we did during Sandy – on the eve of a trial on this very issue no less – shows that there are dramatic and fundamental failings in the City’s emergency plans for people with disabilities. We would love to sit down with the City and fix these problems. Otherwise, we plan to go to trial and get a legal ruling that the City must fix it.”

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is a leading expert in the field of emergency planning for people with disabilities and has experience working with multiple cities of various sizes to develop emergency plans that incorporate the unique needs of people with disabilities. DRA recently secured a landmark federal court decision, which required the City of Los Angeles to include people with disabilities in its emergency plans. As a result of the ruling, more than 800,000 Los Angelenos with disabilities will now be included in the City’s emergency planning.           


Shawna Parks, DRA Attorney, (212) 644-8644 or (310) 866-7531,

Julia Pinover, DRA Attorney, (212) 644-8644,     

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