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Court Allows Suit of Car Dealer for Refusing to Install Hand Controls
July 10, 2017
Source: SF Gate
A licensed driver who is paralyzed from the waist down can sue an auto dealer, under disability law, for refusing to install hand controls on a vehicle for a test drive, a [California] federal appeals court ruled Monday.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses and other public facilities to make “reasonable modifications” in their practices to make their products available to the disabled, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said in a ruling reinstating a lawsuit against a San Diego car dealer.
The court stopped short of saying all dealers must provide hand controls and said the cost may be “unreasonably burdensome” for some dealers. But the judges refused to dismiss the suit and noted the San Diego drivers claims that the devices were inexpensive, easily installed and widely used by auto rental agencies.
The driver, John Karczewski, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, said he went to DHC Honda to buy a used car in July 2014 and asked for temporary hand controls on a test drive, since he was unable to use his legs. He said employees told him the dealer would not install the devices on any of its vehicles.
Karczewski managed to get hand controls for test drives by making short-term rentals, said his lawyer, Russell Handy.
“Rental car agencies around the country routinely install and provide hand controls, and it is unfortunate that dealerships have resisted this accommodation for decades,” said Handy, who called the ruling “a win for persons with disabilities.”
There was no immediate comment from the auto dealer.
The dealer and the National Automobile Dealers Association, which filed arguments in the case, said federal regulations set limits on businesses duty to accommodate the disabled. One rule says a company does not have to “alter its inventory” to provide products designed for the disabled. Another finds no obligation to provide customers or clients with “personal devices” such as wheelchairs or prescription eyeglasses.
But the court said the dealer wasn't being asked to alter its entire inventory, but only to make a “temporary, short-term modification” to a vehicle in its current inventory. And the court said the law draws a distinction between devices a disabled person is likely to own, like a wheelchair, and specialized devices that allow equal access to products or services, like a movie theaters captioning system for the deaf.
“It makes little sense to require a person to possess a spare set of hand controls — of a brand that a dealership may or may not know how to install — simply for the few occasions in the persons lifetime when he or she wants to test-drive a car,” Judge Susan Graber said in the ruling.
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