On November 9, 2007, three named plaintiffs with mobility impairments limiting their ability to walk, filed a federal lawsuit for themselves and on behalf of all others similarly situated against Walt Disney World Co. They brought suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleging that Disney had discriminated against them by not allowing them to bring their Segway PT two-wheeled, self-balancing vehicles into its Disney World Resort. The plaintiffs brought the case under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12182, et seq., arguing that Segways, which the user rides while standing, were in use by an estimated 4,000 to 7,000 individuals with disabilities residing in the United States who relied on them for mobility. Given the popularity of Disney World, the Plaintiffs argued that a class in excess of fifty these individuals would be affected by Disney's refusal to allow them to bring their Segways into the park. Disney offered rental wheelchairs and power scooters at an additional expense, but no mobility devices that permitted the user to ride upright. The Plaintiffs alleged that the option to rent a seated mobility device was inadequate, because of the additional expense, because disabled individuals who owned and used wheelchairs were permitted to bring in their own mobility devices, and because a standing position was safer. Also, the plaintiffs argued that Disney discriminated against them by requiring them to walk from the parking area to the rental area inside the Park. One named plaintiff had kept her disability a secret from her children, and argued that using a rented wheelchair or scooter would have necessitated her disclosing her condition to them. Thus she was allegedly only able to enjoy a small section of the park. The Plaintiffs also alleged that Disney allowed certain of its employees the use of Segway PT devices within the park. The Plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction directing Disney to allow the use of Segway PT devices by disabled guests, and to have the court issue a declaration the Disney's prohibition of the use of Segway PTs violated Title III of the ADA. They also sought to an award of attorney's fees and other expenses incurred.
On February 20, 2008 the Court (J. Presnell) dismissed the suit, holding that under the their initial complaint, the Plaintiffs lacked standing. The order gave the Plaintiffs leave to file an Amended Complaint. Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., 2008 WL 490581. A First Amended Complaint was filed April 1, 2008.
On December 26, 2008, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Conditional Class Certification and for Preliminary Approval of Joint Stipulation of Settlement. 2008 WL 5452909. The Plaintiff submitted a Second Amended Complaint on the same day, which expanded the complaint to explicitly include the Disneyland Resort in California and upon which the proposed settlement was predicated. On January 5, 2009, Judge Presnell initially granted these motions, conditioned on the outcome of a fairness hearing. Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., 254 F.R.D. 680 (M.D. Fla. 2009).
However, on October 6, 2009, Judge Presnell issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order vacating his January 5 order certifying the class preliminarily approving the settlement, and dismissing the Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. The court found that the outcome of the two-day fairness hearing, which began on June 3, 2009, showed the Plaintiffs lacked standing to represent and bind the class of disabled Segway users, because many of them would not accept the settlement terms. The court quotes two objectors in particular, who rejected the terms of the settlement because the four-wheeled device Disney proposed to provide as an alternative to Segways resembled a scooter and therefore would make their disabilities more obvious, increasing stigmatization or their psychological sense of being disabled. Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., 2009 WL 3242028 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 6).
This decision was appealed, and on December 14, 2010, the federal Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a per curium opinion that vacated the district court's dismissal order. The Court of Appeals cited evidence presented in oral argument, and found that the named plaintiffs did have standing as representatives of the proposed class; the appellate court reinstated the December 26, 2008 motions and the Second Amended Complaint. Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., 405 F. App'x 401 (11th Cir. 2010).
The Court of Appeals remanded the case back the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, where it was reopened on January 14, 2011. On April 4, 2011, the court issued an order approving the Class Action Settlement, and on April 25 issued a final judgment. The parties agreed to a settlement, whereby, while denying any liability or wrong doing associated with the claims alleged, Disney agreed to develop its own four-wheeled electric vehicle operated by a standing rider, and to provide at least fifteen of these devices at the Disney Resorts. These devices will be available to qualifying patrons on the same terms as the park's sit-down electric vehicles.
Disney also agreed to pay each of the three named plaintiffs $4000, which the settlement suggested might be used toward a one-week stay for a family of four at a Disney hotel at Disney World, and also to allow the named plaintiff's complimentary use of the special electric vehicles during one visit to Disney World.
In accordance with the Settlement, the court, in the April 25 Final Judgment, awarded reasonable attorneys' fees and costs totaling $60,000 to the firms representing two of the named plaintiffs. The third named plaintiff's attorneys were awarded $40,000 in a separate order dated May 23, 2011.
On April 29, 2011, plaintiff objectors appealed the approval of the settlement and the grant of final judgment. The 11th Circuit denied this appeal in an opinion dated August 30, 2012, holding that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class and approving the settlement (J. Dubina) Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., 692 F.3d 1212 (11th Cir. 2012). The appellant sought review from the Supreme Court, which was denied in 2013.
Disney introduced its Electric Standing Vehicles on May 2, 2013, charging a daily rental fee.Alex Colbert-Taylor - 05/31/2013