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Don't Let the Door Hit You...

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

If you've ever stayed in an ADA-accessible hotel room, you understand that such rooms are designed to make life easier for guests with disabilities. Sinks are lower. Showers are bigger and outfitted with handrails. The rooms are designed to minimize the risk of injury.

So you can understand why a guest might be surprised -- upset, even -- when a spring-hinged door in her accessible room smacks her. And lands her in the hospital with injuries. Requiring multiple surgeries.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled this week that death-door spring-hinged door closers comply with ADA regulations.

In 2004, Marriott renovated 57 Courtyard by Marriott hotels, and in each of the hotels -- including the location at the center of this case -- installed spring-hinged door closer mechanisms on the bathroom doors of its ADA-accessible rooms. Marjorie Friedman Scherr, an elderly woman who uses a walker, booked an ADA-accessible room at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Overland Park, Kansas, in 2006. While attempting to exit her bathroom at the hotel, the door -- which she had pushed open and then released to use her walker -- slammed shut on her, striking her and knocking her down.

As a result, she had to have surgery for a broken wrist and an injured hip.

In addition to a personal injury suit, Scherr sued Marriott for violations under Title III of the American with Disabilities Act. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings to Marriott, finding that the door closers complied with ADA regulations.

There is no dispute that Marriott chose to install the spring-hinged closers rather than the slower-moving hydraulic-arm door closer or a standard, non-auto-closing hinge. The question in this case was simply an issue of whether the spring-hinged closers complied with ADA requirements.

The American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) control in these types of situations. Analyzing the "sweep period" of the Marriott doors, the district court concluded that the spring-hinge door closers complied with the 2010 Standards for spring hinges, but not for door closers. Scherr claimed that spring-hinged door closer must comply with both; the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

The court reasoned that, applying the plain language of the statute, the most reasonable interpretation of the 2010 Standards required that spring hinges and door closers be treated separately. As a result, Scherr's claim failed as a matter of law.

While the 2010 Standards signaled the end of Scherr's claim, that doesn't mean the door is automatically closed on your ADA claim. If you need an expert witness to help you wade through the minutia of hinges and hydraulics and sweep times, consider checking the Expert Witness database in FindLaw's Legal Services Market Center.

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