Some readers went right after this story about a former Ms. Wheelchair South Dakota suing eight local businesses over ADA access.
Some of the comments on the Argus Leader’s Facebook page and on two online versions of the story came from people who’d experienced their own difficulties with wheelchair accessibility in Sioux Falls.
Kristina Allen, the plaintiff in the lawsuits, claims to be speaking for them. She isn’t asking for money (aside from attorney fees). She’s asking each of the businesses to remedy the issues she says make it difficult for her and anyone else in a wheelchair to patronize the establishments.
The alleged issues are similar from business to business. The lawsuits have similar language, too.
This bit appears in all eight of them:
“Plaintiff is deterred from, and is denied the opportunity to participate and benefit from the goods, services, privileges, advantages, facilities and accommodations at Defendant’s property equal to that afforded to other individuals. Plaintiff is aware that it would be a futile gesture to attempt to visit Defendant’s property if she wishes to do so free of discrimination.”
The similarities aren’t surprising. These appear to be form lawsuits, filed with the assistance of an out-of-state lawyer who specializes in ADA lawsuits. For further proof, take a look at this rather perplexing sentence in the suit against Boonies:
“The Plaintiff has encountered architectural barriers at the subject property which discriminate against her on the basis of his disability and have endangered his safety.”
Notice the “his” pronoun in there? Someone probably went through each of the documents before filing them and plugged in the necessary changes: “His” to “hers,” “him” to “her,” “he” to “she,” etc.
Not a huge typo, really, given the sheer number of pronouns spread throughout the filings. If it happened in every paragraph, one might be justified in getting judgy about the grammar.
There’s something larger, though: Half the lawsuits list defendants who don’t own the targeted businesses any longer.
When calling around yesterday to ask for comment, I had a lady tell me it had been “at least three years” since she and her husband owned The Mint casino. She was served with the lawsuit, anyway. An employee at Nutty’s Pub and Grill told me the woman I was looking for hadn’t owned the place for a year.
The man who now owns Boonies Bar and Barbeque said he couldn’t comment officially on the lawsuit because he hadn’t seen it. Of course he hadn’t. He isn’t named in it.
This carried on into Wednesday. Someone sent a message to the Argus Leader’s Facebook account pointing out that Nutty’s is no longer owned by the named defendant (which is odd, considering we didn’t name her). The message also said the bar had been renovated in the past year.
Another defendant is dead and has been since 2010. Honestly.
The named defendant was once the owner of Black Sheep Coffee, but he died in 2010. A Black Sheep employee told me Tuesday that someone showed up recently to serve papers on him. He was predictably unavailable.
All of this raises plenty of questions about the veracity of Allen’s specific claims. Exactly when did she visit these places and have these troubles? How many of the problems described in the lawsuits still exist?
These lawsuits will probably need to be amended at the very least, possibly re-filed. The lawsuits that don’t name a specific owner – those targeting Crown Casino, Golden Bowl Chinese Restaurant, Jacky’s Restaurant and Bakery – might be in better shape.
Those are issues for the court to decide. The actual truth of a case is always up to court.
The story was and remains newsworthy for two reasons - One, an advocate for the disabled filed lawsuits against local businesses detailing a series of very real problems faced by people in wheelchairs, and two, the flurry of lawsuits is an example of how private individuals are sometimes expected to seek their own relief when they believe they’ve been discriminated against because of a disability.
In other words, the disabled feel they have to enforce the ADA laws themselves. That much is true, regardless of what happens with Allen’s cases, and is worth writing about.
Whether she is telling the exact truth about one business or the next is a separate question – again, one for the courts.
That said: if you intend to sue someone, it behooves you to make certain that the person is still alive.