The National Academies

TCRP J-05/Topic 17-01 [Anticipated]

Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Transit Agency Liability
[ TCRP J-05 (Legal Aspects of Transit and Intermodal Transportation Programs) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $43,750
Staff Responsibility: Gwen Chisholm-Smith
Fiscal Year: 2016

In the 17 years since TCRP’s July 1998 study of the ADA and tort liability, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has become a fixed part of America’s cultural and legal landscapes. The ADA has transformed U.S. transit agencies, which now have sophisticated programs to address a wide variety of accessibility goals, including transit station, bus and rail vehicle design, stop announcements, paratransit programs, and many other subjects.
In 1998 the ADA was “relatively new and there [was] very little in the way of reported case law,” and therefore the TCRP saw “a need for an assessment to determine the potential of tort liability and to identify unreported tort liability cases arising out of the act.” TCRP’s study focused on ADA-related tort liability, but in the years since then it has become clear that for agencies, tort liability is only a small aspect of the many legal risks and liabilities presented by the ADA. In fact, by far the most publicized legal disputes involving transit agencies and ADA claims have been civil rights lawsuits. Such suits can be catalysts for change, but because of their potential for injunctive relief, class actions, and large attorney fee awards they can also impose severe burdens on transit agencies with budgetary constraints.
Over the last 17 years the TCRP has issued some legal papers touching on the ADA. In 2003 a study addressed the general impact of the ADA on transit operations; in 2007 the TCRP issued a collection of FTA letters of findings and compliance assessments; and in 2011 a paper on reduction in service and fare increases addressed ADA together with other civil rights implications. However, the caselaw on ADA liability has not been comprehensively addressed by TCRP since 1998.
The purpose of this study will be to provide a comprehensive overview of the types of legal claims against transit agencies that the ADA has generated–except now, the types of claims to be examined will encompass not only tort, but civil rights and other ADA-related claims. As in 1998, “the objective of this research is to prepare and present an assessment of problems in implementing the act from the perspective of transit operators”—except now there is a large body of caselaw and regulatory guidance to draw upon in making that assessment. In addition, the FTA has recently issued guidance on the ADA that should be addressed and summarized as part of this project. As in 1998, “the research results should be helpful to transit operators, administrators, planners, risk managers, and attorneys in devising a transit program that meets the objective of the act, minimizes risk of harm to disabled passengers, and ultimately minimizes the transit operators’ potential for …liability.”

Status: In Development.

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