NEW ORLEANS — A settlement agreement approved by a federal court stipulates the city of New Orleans and the Regional Transit Authority will bring more than 2,000 bus stops into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The agreement was struck in response to a lawsuit filed by Francis Falls, Mitchell Miraglia and Thad Tatum last March alleging that city bus stops do not accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Under the settlement agreement, approved by a three-judge panel of the Eastern District Court of Louisiana, the defendants agreed to repair and/or construct bus stops in the city of Kenner and New Orleans Parish, in accordance with ADA standards, while at the same time denying plaintiffs’ allegations and liability.
Court documents said all parties agreed to the compromise to avoid the expense and inconvenience of further litigation.
“When you look at the settlement, you’ll see that they’re basically committing to development of a plan going forward on how the city is going to prioritize these bus stops,” David Whitaker, a partner who defends ADA litigation at Kean Miller, told the Louisiana Record. “Although the pleadings in the case allege that more than 90 percent of the bus stops are not in compliance with ADA requirements, there is undoubtedly a wide range of potential compliance issues involved — in some locations relatively minor, in other locations more significant, so the percentage by itself does not provide a lot of information.”
Most of Whitaker’s clients are private-sector businesses that are obligated to comply with the public-accommodation requirements found in Title III of the ADA, while the RTA case deals with a government entity subject to Title II of the Act.
Still, good business practices should prevail for both.
“A business is well advised to give some thought to (ADA compliance) ahead of time,” Whitaker said. “It’s easier to deal with the issues proactively and on your time table rather than having to address it within the context of a lawsuit.”
The agreement stipulates that New Orleans and the RTA will work with ADA personnel to oversee and implement a compliance plan.
“The retention of said experts will be funded in accordance with the transit agreement between the city and the RTA,” the settlement stated, which places a deadline of Nov. 30, 2021 for completion of the evaluation process.
Under a “reasonable accommodation prioritization” clause, the settlement agreement allows for the three defendants to each submit a list of the 10 bus stops they would like to see placed at the top of the modification list, as long as their lists do not substantially alter the compliance timeline. Improvements on those 30 bus stops are to be made by Jan. 1, 2019.
A transition plan must be submitted to the court for approval by Nov. 30, 2022 and all bus stops must be in compliance by Nov. 30, 2031. Actual cost of improvements to the bus stops has yet to be determined.
With respect to how quickly the compliance issues under the RTA settlement agreement will be corrected, Whitaker said, “I guess it remains to be seen how all of this is going to play out,” noting that there is a price tag associated with making these changes.