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New York City Benignly Neglected Disabled in Hurricane Emergencies

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on November 11, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With only a few more weeks to go in this current hurricane season, a federal district judge ruled against New York City for failure to adequately provide emergency plans to protect the disabled during emergencies.


Two non-profits representing people with disabilities, and two disabled people, filed a suit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City following hurricane-turned-tropical storm Irene, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and New York City Human Rights Laws.

A year later, after the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy highlighted the flaws in New York City's emergency preparedness plans, U.S. District Judge Furman granted class-action status to the plaintiffs, in November 2012, according to The New York Times.

After a six-day bench trial, testimony of at least 35 witnesses, and review of 25,000 pages of exhibits and over 20 city emergency plans, Judge Furman issued a 119-page decision finding for the plaintiffs.

Though Furman did not cite evidence of any intentional discrimination, he found that the disabled suffered from discrimination resulting "benign neglect" at the hands of the City, reports The Associated Press. Problems with the city's evacuation plans, which relied on public transportation, which itself is mostly inaccessible for people with disabilities, was an area of concern. Judge Furman also noted problems with accessible shelters, and letting people with disabilities know about the "availability and location of accessible emergency services."

While noting that planning for emergencies on such a grand scale is a "herculean task," and that the city had "done an outstanding job," he stated "that while the City's emergency preparedness program adequately accommodates the needs of people with disabilities in some respects, it fails to do so in others."

Judge Furman limited his decision to the question of liability and ordered the parties to negotiate a settlement that would address the areas lacking in the City's emergency preparedness plan, reports the New York Law Journal.

Political Reality

New York City's corporation counsel, Michael Cardozo, stated: "While we are disappointed with the court's conclusions, we are gratified it recognized that the city's extensive planning is impressive," reports The New York Times.

No word yet on whether the city will appeal, Cardozo has said the City is figuring out the next steps. Interestingly, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has been silent and declined to comment, according to the Times. However, we'd be surprised if de Blasio, dubbed the un-Bloomberg by Slate (and who ran an anti-Bloomberg campaign) would want to start his term with appealing a decision that helps people with disabilities.

On the other hand, Julia Pinover, the attorney who argued the case for plaintiffs stated that "ramifications nationwide are huge" and New York's model could inspire "municipalities country-wide to think through the sufficiency of their own plans," says the AP.

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