Appeals court upholds controversial Disney settlement regarding Segways

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a legal settlement reached between Disney and a group of plaintiffs who had challenged the company’s ban on Segways at its theme parks, overruling objections from the U.S. Department of Justice and other advocates who argued that the settlement shorted a significant portion of the plaintiffs.

Segaways are stand-up, motorized two-wheeled vehicles used by people with certain mobility disabilities. In November 2007, three plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all similarly situated people in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleging that Disney’s policy on Segaways violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Disney reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in 2008, agreeing to provide additional ESVs, a type of four-wheeled electric stand vehicle, as explained in an article on Disabilitylaw.blogspot.

However, a new lawsuit was filed by a separate group of individuals, who argued that the ESVs were not an adequate substitute because their disabilities make it difficult for them to stand-up from the ESVs and thus necessitate the Segways to fully experience the theme parks. For this lawsuit to succeed and for Disney to therefore lift the ban, the groups would therefore have to convince a court to disband the old settlement. The Department of Justice and Disability Rights Advocates for Technology joined the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Disney argues that Segways impose a safety risk.

After some back and forth between the courts, the 11th Circuit ruled August 30 that the district court did not abuse its discretion by upholding the settlement. Specifically, the 11th Circuit stated that the new plaintiffs’ claims were not unique enough to allow it break the old settlement.

“While each class member may have a stronger or weaker claim depending upon his or her degree of reliance, we conclude that this alone does not make class representatives’ claims atypical of the class as a whole,” the court stated.

The case appears to be in conflict with a recent ruling regarding Segways from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. In that case, an individual filed a lawsuit challenging the same Disney policy at its parks in California, also with the assistance of the Justice Department.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District dismissed the case. However, on July 18, the 9th Circuit ordered the district court to rehear the case, this time with the understanding that Disney must provide evidence that the Segways are, in fact, a safety risk.

The 9th Circuit’s decision sharply criticized Disney, suggesting its ban on Segways is likely in violation of the ADA.

“Read as Disney suggests, the ADA would require few accommodations indeed,” the 9th Circuit stated. “After all, a parapalegic can enter a courthouse by dragging himself up the front steps..so lifts and ramps would no be ‘necessary’ under Disney’s reading of the term.”