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New York City Lawsuit over Disaster Planning for Individuals with Disabilities

Suit May Go On in Disaster Plan for the Disabled

By Benjamin Weiser, 12/8/2012

A judge has agreed to allow a class-action lawsuit to proceed against New York City alleging a systemic failure in addressing the needs of the disabled population in planning for emergencies and disasters.

The lawsuit was filed last year after Tropical Storm Irene; the lawyers have contended that there were significant gaps in the city's plans to accommodate people with disabilities at city shelters or to evacuate them from high rises, among other claims.  

Judge Jesse M. Furman of Federal District Court in Manhattan cited  Hurricane Sandy's impact in support of granting class-action status to the plaintiffs: the city's estimated disabled population of about 900,000 people.

The judge wrote that it was impossible to know "if or when disaster will strike the city, but - as the tragic events of the past few weeks make abundantly clear - it is beyond 'mere conjecture' that another disaster, whether natural or man-made, will occur and that it will seriously affect members of the proposed class."

The judge did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit. The city has said the plaintiffs' claims are "patently false." Martha Calhoun, a senior city lawyer, said the city's emergency plans had been "carefully developed in order to effectively serve the needs of all New Yorkers, including individuals with disabilities." She said the city would "vigorously defend" the case at trial.

The suit seeks an order that the city devise programs to address the issue. Julia M. Pinover, a lawyer with Disability Rights Advocates, which represents the plaintiffs, said Hurricane Sandy was "proof" the city's "plans are faulty."

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