Disney Fights To Keep Autism Lawsuits From Going To Trial
Walt Disney Co. is fighting to stop trials for 30 lawsuits in which people with autism contend the parks didn’t accommodate their disabilities because they had to wait in line for rides.
Disney filed a petition this week asking for a rehearing following a court’s decision in August that ruled the plaintiffs’ complaints should be heard at trial, according to documents from the U.S. Court of Appeal’s 11th Circuit in Atlanta.
The lawsuits were filed after Disney revamped its system — which was ripe with “massive fraud and abuse,” Disney admitted in court documents — for people with disabilities in 2013.
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Before, people were allowed to the front of the lines to ride attractions. The news media reported stories about rich families hiring a “tour guide” — someone with disabilities — to take advantage of the policy and skip the lines.
Now, Disney requires people to reserve rides and use special access cards.
But some parents complained the new policy doesn’t eliminate the ride waiting — which is especially hard for children with severe autism because they don’t understand the concept of time and are dependent on routine, riding attractions in a certain order to prevent a meltdown, plaintiffs have said.
In newly filed courts documents, Disney argued people with autism can have meltdowns for a variety of reasons, such as loud noises, lights and crowd.
The court’s ruling “assumes that Disney somehow has the ability, let alone legal obligation, to prevent meltdowns with instant and unrestricted ride entry,” Disney said in court documents.
“To impose such a standard on Disney and — inevitably — the many other places customers have to wait — sports arenas, restaurants, grocery stores, malls, doctors’ offices, movie theatres, and other theme parks — is thus not only untenable but also incompatible with the way places of public accommodation have operated for decades,” Disney said.
Disney also argued the court ignored some of the plaintiffs who said they stood in line before without having any problems — such as an unnamed person who once waited 30 minutes to ride Epcot’s Test Track.
Disney also sought to limit the number of plaintiffs, saying at least seven did not have severe autism.
The plaintiff’s attorney could not be reached immediately.
The lawsuits have no merit and Disney complies with ADA regulations, a Disney spokeswoman said in a statement.
“Disney Parks have an unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible environment for all our guests,” the statement said.
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