NEW ORLEANS - A 30-year season ticket holder of the New Orleans Saints, who is disabled, claims he was discriminated against by the owners because they did not offer an unobstructed view of the field.
Shelby Bailey, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, filed the lawsuit in the Eastern District of Louisiana, claiming the owners of the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans violated provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Bailey claims his problems began after the state, which owns the arena, finished an $85 million renovation in 2011. He is suing the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, its chairman Kyle France and SMG, which manages the venue.
His lawyer, Andrew David Bizer, of the Bizer and De Beus law firm, said that after the renovations at the Superdome, his client's wheelchair designated area was moved to the last row in the lower deck.
"Whenever other fans stand up, he cannot see, and also cannot see the ball when kicked, punted, or thrown long passes," Bizer told the Louisiana Record.
"He tried to work with the Superdome and the Saints to rectify the issue and tried to work with other sites," added Bizer.
The problem, Bailey claims in his suit, is that those designated wheelchair areas are not high enough to allow him a good sight line, which, it is alleged, is a violation of the ADA.
Those provisions on sight lines are, in part, aimed at dealing with those situations where a view is obstructed by persons standing in front of an individual with disabilities, Bizer explained, adding that his client tried to work with the owners without success.
"This is a case of someone trying to work without a lawyer and failing, work with a lawyer and failing, and only then filed a lawsuit." Bizer said.
Savannah Chamblee, SMG's event marketing and media coordinator, told the Times Picayune newspaper that the Superdome has "always taken and will continue to take steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities."
She further told the publication that it would not be "appropriate" for SMG to provide further comment since the matter is being litigated.
Bizer, who has filed many lawsuits accusing businesses of violations of the ADA, said it was important that an individual is able to file suit under the legislation passed in the early 1990s.
There was a compromise when it was passed, and that was the business community will police so that "valuable tax dollars are not being spent on inspectors," Bizer said.
Some claim that lawyers and plaintiffs take advantage of the ADA by filing frivolous lawsuits, which can cause serious financial harm to small businesses.
Bizer argued that there are "good and bad lawyers, good and bad doctors, good and bad journalists," but all of his clients are "very, very close" to where it is claimed their rights under the ADA were violated.
David Whitaker, a defense attorney with Kean Miller of New Orleans, said that the city has, since 2009, seen "a significant increase in these ADA public accommodation cases, strip malls, small businesses."
He said that, while the ADA has been in effect since the early 1990s, there was not, in the earlier years, a lot of litigation in Louisiana, unlike in other states such as Florida and California.
But there has been a marked increase in the city and state since about 2009, Whitaker said, citing several cases against the city over access to public transportation.
"I think what has happened is a phenomenon that was happening in other parts of the country...attorneys realized that there was not a whole lot going on and saw a market," Whitaker said.
He said New Orleans has a lot of old buildings, places where the sidewalks are not level, that it is "an old city, challenging, enticing," for lawyers and plaintiffs.
On the issues of businesses self policing, Whitaker said that it is "not entirely true," because businesses are inspected by the parish or city.
He added that this particular kind of litigation sometimes can be described as "drive by and "frivolous," where individuals seek places that may not be fully compliant, and at which there is no intention to use the services.