Reversed Results

In Torts class we learn how case law affects people and how they conduct themselves. For instance, because of the publicity and money damages arising out of the McDonald’s coffee cup case (Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants*), fast food restaurants began putting warnings on “to-go” coffee cups.  Take a look at what your Starbuck’s coffee cups says, and they weren’t even sued.

Likewise, over time, persons with disabilities were being denied equal access to areas such as telecommunications, public buildings, employment, transportation, and other services. In response, our government created the Americans with Disabilities Act , law that required businesses, employers, government offices and buildings, and telecommunication companies, to make accommodations to persons with disabilities so that they have equal access.

The natural result should have been that disabled folks now have access. However, a blog examining the issue, Freakonomics, notes that the very opposite might be true. The disabled may very well continue to be denied access because of the high cost of required accommodations. The blog tells the story of a deaf patient visiting an orthopedic doctor. She requested a sign language interpreter. The ADA states that the doctor would have to provide the interpreter at his cost – in the story, he’d have to pay a minimum of $240. While that wasn’t difficult for the doctor for one appointment, if she required surgery which came with 8 follow-up appointments, the doctor would be in debt to the interpreter (being that the surgery wasn’t very expensive) at the close of treatment. According to the article, the doctor’s peers indicated that they would simply decline to service the deaf patient. Meaning, in the end, the ADA managed to cut the deaf patient off from services as opposed to providing more access to those services.

The natural follow-up question then is, how are the disabled faring with employment opportunities? One figures that the same rejection of the disabled may very well be occurring without much attention.

The story raises the double-edged sword of legal accommodation. A similar clash of interests led to the death of affirmative action. According to some, people ended up getting discriminated against based on their race with affirmative action in place. Can’t win for losing. True equality, practically speaking, is quite difficult to accomplish. Perhaps it is impossible?

*Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, P.T.S., Inc., No. D-202 CV-93-02419, 1995 WL 360309 (Bernalillo County, N.M. Dist. Ct. Aug. 18, 1994)

Source: ABA Law Journal Law News Now.


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