This federal class action lawsuit was filed in September of 2011. More than a decade after 9/11, New Yorkers with disabilities continued to face disproportionate risks of catastrophic harm and death during disasters - as Hurricanes Irene had shown, and as Sandy soon demonstrated. The class of 900,000 New York residents with disabilities included people with vision, hearing, mobility, and mental disabilities.
On November 7, 2013, the Court ruled that New York City discriminated against people with disabilities in its failure to plan for their needs in large scale disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. This was a major victory for hundreds of thousands of children, women, men, and seniors with disabilities, and will likely have national implications. You can read the Court's decision here.
In May of 2013, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, on behalf of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), filed a statement of interest that supported Plaintiffs’ position in the case. The DOJ’s statement of interest held that: “Unfortunately, despite the obvious importance of accounting for the unique needs of individuals with disabilities in planning for emergencies, New York City’s emergency plans, like many state and local emergency plans throughout the nation, fail to do so.....Plaintiffs presented significant evidence at trial in support of their claim that the City’s emergency plans, in many areas, exclude individuals with disabilities from benefitting equally from the City’s services, and fail to comply with the [ADA's] regulations.”
Despite the lessons of 9/11 and an increasing number of weather emergencies, New York City refused to address its deficient emergency planning. Its carelessness endangered the health and safety of seniors, children, women, and men with disabilities in Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.
The case went to trial in March 2013 – the first of its kind in the country. The trial demonstrated that disabled and elderly New Yorkers suffered needlessly in recent hurricanes because of the City’s lack of planning for their needs. People with disabilities impacted by Sandy reported a lack of evacuation, wheelchair accessible emergency shelters, and power outages, which left them stranded in their homes and without vital medical equipment and prescription medications. Such events showed that New York City lacked an adequate emergency plan that accounted for the needs of people with disabilities during an emergency.
On September 30, 2014, the parties announced a comprehensive settlement agreement to remedy the deficiencies found by Judge Furman in his decision. The agreement provides for sweeping improvements to the City’s emergency preparedness programs and services, including all major emergency planning areas such as High Rise Evacuation, Sheltering, Transportation, and Canvassing. This agreement will impact the lives and safety of nearly 900,000 New Yorkers with disabilities. You can read the agreement here, a fact sheet on the settlement here, and the notice to class members here.
The Court gave final approval to the parties’ settlement on March 6, 2015, which will allow the parties to move forward in implementing the agreement. During the hearing, the Court recognized the significance of the groundbreaking settlement, calling the settlement “nothing short of remarkable” and one that “will make New York City a safer place to live for people with disabilities.” (See full transcript below.)
The settlement will result in more detailed policies and procedures relating to the unique needs of people with disabilities in large-scale disasters. In the city that has the most high rise buildings and the densest population, people with disabilities can rest easier knowing that their unique needs will be adequately addressed in the City’s disaster plans. As the Court noted, “I have little doubt that this settlement will serve as a model for municipalities nationwide, and frankly, that all Americans, not just those with disabilities, will be the better for it.”