Reed v. W. Oil, Inc., 2017 WL 4236549 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 22, 2017) adds another jurisdiction to those which have considered the relationship between the ADA and common law negligence claims. We’ve blogged about this before*, and while there is no certain national standard, every business should be aware that ADA violations may constitute evidence of negligence or even negligence per se in a personal injury action.
The facts were relatively simple and not at all unusual. The defendant convenience store used the front sidewalk for seasonal product displays. The particular display in question, a stack of water bottles, narrowed the available sidewalk width to about 27 inches, far less than the 36 inches required for an accessible route under the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The plaintiff fell off the curb while trying to maneuver his wheelchair around the display and was injured. The only question for the court was whether the ADA violation was per se negligence.
Applying Missouri law the federal district judge had little difficulty finding the first three elements of a per se negligence claim.
- There was a violation of a statute (the ADA)
- The plaintiff was a member of class protected by the statute (the disabled)
- The statute was intended to protect against the kind of injury in question; that is, a personal injury.
The fourth element – proximate cause – was left for trial.
The third element – the intent of the statute – received almost no attention in the written opinion, with the Court merely referring to pages in the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff’s memorandum in support contained no reference to any other court decision in this area, and from the docket sheet it does not appear the defendant filed any response to the motion for partial summary judgment.
That failure to respond is peculiar, because as we noted in our earlier blogs* there is authority to the effect that the ADA was not intended to protect against personal injury, but only to protect against discrimination. Other cases regard ADA violations as evidence of a failure to meet the relevant standard of care, but not as conclusive proof of negligence. The issue is, in short, open for argument in almost all jurisdictions. Businesses worried about ADA compliance have another reason to worry, but defendants should not ignore the possibility that in their jurisdiction ADA violations are nothing more than evidence of negligence.