Monday, August 22, 2011

Paraplegic Sues Port Authority for Lacking Wheel Chair Lift

Paraplegic sues the Port Authority for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, specifically denial of equal transportation and PAT fights him every step of the way.

Plaintiff Melvin Kramer, 27, a photoshop employee in Pittsburgh, became a paraplegic as a result of an accident. Beginning in 1999, he was dependent upon the Port Authority of Allegheny County bus system for transportation. According to Kramer, he was routinely unable to board the buses because of inoperable wheel chair lifts.

Kramer sued the Port Authority for violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. He was awarded $10,000 in nonbinding arbitration, but the Port Authority appealed, leading to the instant trial.

Kramer alleged that he was denied equal transportation, and that the Port Authority intentionally discriminated against him because of his handicapped status. Kramer alleged that he took a notebook with him when he rode the bus, and that over a four-year period he was denied access to the bus nearly 300 times because the lift did not work.

According to Kramer, sometimes drivers would not even stop if the lift did not work, but would just wave at him as they passed by. Due to the weather in Pittsburgh, he was often left in the cold and snow, at times in temperatures below ten degrees. Additionally, he was routinely unable to make it to work, meet with friends or perform daily tasks. On one occasion, he was forced to wheel himself two miles in the snow after waiting for more than an hour and having bus after bus come by with an inoperable lift. He was late to work 25 times, but he never lost his job because his employer sympathized with him.

The Port Authority denied violating either statute. It contended that although there were isolated mechanical failures, the law allowed a "safety net" which provided that if there was a failure, it could supply a replacement bus, and that it always had replacement buses with working lifts on hand.

Kramer countered that Port Authority bus drivers did not in fact call for a replacement bus, and that when he asked them about having recourse to a replacement bus, they did not know what he was talking about.

Kramer claimed damages for mental anguish and daily personal inconvenience based on a violation of federal law. He also sought punitives and claimed $25,000 in attorney fees.

The jury first wanted to award Kramer $10,000 plus a lifetime bus pass, but when they realized they could only award money and would have to come back the next day to grant equitable relief, they decided to just award the $10,000.   Kramer may also be entitled to his attorney's fees.

Despite this meager aware, the Port Authority is appealing the verdict on the basis of insufficiency of the evidence. Judge Folino is to determine attorney fees.

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