A disabled veteran is suing three hotel chains claiming they failed to bring pools and spas into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The parent companies of Motel 6, Country Inn & Suites and AmericInn are being sued by the same plaintiff.
Though the ADA became law in 1990, it wasn’t until 2010 that the U.S. Department of Justice set the requirements for public pools and spas. To comply, vessels must be equipped with at least one of a list of acceptable access methods, while those measuring more than 300 perimeter feet need two means of disabled access.
Shortly after the deadline for compliance passed on Jan. 31 of this year, a series of class-action lawsuits were filed. One plaintiff in particular, David DeBoard, is suing 22 Indianapolis-area hotels and motels, some independently owned and others affiliated with chains. Two of those cases have been settled.
The three chains became part of the trend in May, when another plaintiff, represented by the same attorney as DeBoard, filed against G6 Hospitality Property, LLC (the parent of Motel 6) in a Texas federal court, and Carlson Hotels and AmericInn International in a Minnesota court.
According to court documents, Dana Bowman is a retired Army sergeant who lost his legs serving as part of a parachuting group. The Texas resident is a frequent speaker and advocate for disabled veterans.
His claims stated that he called multiple locations of each chain, hoping to book rooms for business trips. In the Twin Cities, Bowman said he inquired as to whether five AmericInn locations and 10 Carlson hotels offered pool lifts or other means of access and was told “no.” In Houston, he said he called three Motel 6 locations where staff members told him that no means of access was available. “Plaintiff independently verified the absence of a pool lift at the hotels,” the complaints stated.
He also said the hotel chains do not have plans or policies in place to bring their facilities into compliance.
“Without injunctive relief, plaintiff and others will continue to be unable to independently use defendant’s hotel pools in violation of their rights under the ADA,” he stated in the Minnesota complaints.
The ADA standards contain allowances for cases where accessibility is not “readily achievable.” Bowman’s claims state that doesn’t apply to these hotel chains, saying tax credits are available and lift installation is reasonably priced. “[ADA] compliance … would neither fundamentally alter the nature of defendant’s lodging services nor result in an undue burden to defendant,” he stated in all three lawsuits.
In press accounts, AmericInn’s CEO Paul Kirwin claimed that locations owned by the parent company comply with the ADA, and that the locations named in Bowman’s suit are franchises that will be brought up to date within two months.
Some attorneys defending the hotels insist their clients are in compliance and that the plaintiffs don’t understand some of the minutiae of the ADA requirements.
For instance, there has been some confusion surrounding which lifts can be used. When the 2010 ADA standards were released, they didn’t stipulate whether the lifts could be portable or must be permanently anchored to the deck. In late 2011, as the original compliance deadline approached, the DOJ stated the devices must be permanent, but allowed for portable lifts purchased before March 15, 2012, provided they are kept in position for use at the pool and operational during all times that the pool is open.
Martin Orlick represents a lodging facility that is being sued for a number of ADA infractions, including a lack of pool and spa access (but not included in the Bowman or DeBoard suits). “That’s an awkward situation because they’d had a portable pool lift and they bought it before March 15, 2012, and the DOJ seems to be permitting those,” he said. “However, that doesn’t deter this plaintiff.”
Some defendants have long-range plans in place for updating the pools and spas, while others that have lifts or other forms of access in place misinformed the plaintiffs, said David Raizman, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins, who is based in the firm’s Los Angeles office.
Still other facility owners have had to wait months to obtain a lift, then even longer to find professionals willing or qualified to install the devices. “It’s not necessarily something that anyone who’s handy can do properly,” Raizman said.
All these situations fall under the “readily achievable” exception, he contends. “The term ‘readily achievable’ means either that the expense of doing so or the administrative difficulty of doing so did not allow for … the removal of the barrier,” Raizman said. “… I think responsible hotel owners and operators can quite possibly not have a lift in place as of Feb. 1 and still be in 100 percent compliance with their obligations under the law.”