"If a disabled person wants to purchase a car, they need hand controls in order to be able to test drive it just like anyone else, ensuring that they can purchase the vehicle that's right for their body and lifestyle."
This week, in a win for both disability rights and consumer rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled that individuals who rely on hand controls to operate their cars and trucks have an equal right to test drive their vehicles before purchasing them.
Buying a new car is both exciting and a big decision. Cars give us freedom of movement, and are usually the second biggest purchase we make in our lives, after our homes. The ability to choose the right vehicle for them can be especially meaningful for people with disabilities.
"While many people with disabilities do rely on public transportation, others prefer to drive their own vehicles to go places where public transit does not go, whether for work or for play, or simply preferring the increased freedom cars provide to set your own schedule and take the most direct route," said Emily Smith Beitiks, Associate Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. "If a disabled person wants to purchase a car, they need hand controls in order to be able to test drive it just like anyone else, ensuring that they can purchase the vehicle that's right for their body and lifestyle."
Temporary hand controls are inexpensive relative to the cost of a vehicle, easy to install, easy to remove, universal to virtually all vehicles, and do not require any permanent alteration to the vehicle or affect the functioning of any safety feature. In other words, there is no good reason a dealership cannot offer test drives to people who utilize hand controls.
Yet when Jack Karczewski, who is paralyzed from the waist down, wanted to test drive a Honda Odyssey in July 2014, the sales representatives and managers at DCH Honda of Mission Valley refused to even consider his request to use temporary hand controls, or do a modicum of research to find out how cheap and easy to install temporary hand controls are. Their refusal effectively banned not only Mr. Karczewski from shopping there, but anyone else who might rely on hand controls. The message was clear -- If you use a wheelchair, your business is not welcome here.
Mr. Karczewski, rightly believing his money spends just as well as anyone else's, sought redress in the Southern District of the United States District Court. Mr. Karczewskiwas represented by the Center for Disability Access. While the lower Court originally held that a car dealership is not required install temporary hand controls for test drives and dismissed Mr. Karczewski's claims, on July 10, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, reversed that decision.
This month the Ninth Circuit, resolving a split among district courts, held that the Americans with Disabilities Act does in fact require businesses that are open to the public to "make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities." In short, the higher court held DCH Honda had a duty to consider Mr. Karczewski's request.
"This decision is more than a win for our client as an individual," said Attorney Mark Potter. "Car dealerships across the nation now have a clear, affirmative duty to process these requests to provide hand controls for test drives. Rather than being allowed to maintain a blanket policy that hand controls are not provided, the dealerships will need analyze each request individually on a case-by-case basis. Dealerships will only be able to refuse to provide hand controls if they can show doing so is unreasonably burdensome. The end result is going to be that most large car dealerships are going to have to provide hand controls for test drives from now on."
POTTER HANDY, LLP has handled civil rights cases for persons with disabilities in California under the name Center for Disability Access since 1996. Potter Handy is the leading law firm regarding disability access under the ADA. Its attorneys have litigated hundreds of trials and appeals in Federal and State Courts, including California and U.S. Supreme Courts. Potter Handy has obtained over 150 published opinions that have expanded the civil and consumer rights of persons in California and throughout the United States in over a thousand of cases such as, personal injury cases, civil rights matters, employee claims, and consumer class actions - www.potterhandy.com
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