Last week, in a 10-0 vote, a payment of $2.1 million dollars for legal fees was approved by the Los Angeles City Council. The vote resulted from a lawsuit filed by disability rights groups on behalf of an estimated 800,000 residents of the city who live with disabilities and no way to evacuate the city in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall found that the city did not have a plan that would notify, evacuate, transport, or provide shelter for the city’s disabled population should disaster strike. Marshall stated that the city’s emergency plans “must be open and accessible to all of its residents,” and that the city’s current plan violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Because of the city’s failure to address their unique needs, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to harm in the event of an emergency or disaster,” the judge wrote.
It was also noted that the city’s own Department on Disability report in 2008 concluded that disabled residents were “at-risk for suffering and death in disproportionate numbers.”
Shawna Parks, legal director of the Disability Rights Legal Center, along with other advocates, scrutinized the city’s 200-page emergency operations plan, which is available through public records requests. It was obvious that there was no consideration for the needs of the disabled. The need for city evacuation plans that include the disabled was highlighted during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when death rates among the disabled and elderly were significantly higher than those of able-bodied residents.
Officials were ordered to meet with the parties that brought the lawsuit, which included Actively Living Independent and Audrey Harthorn, a San Fernando resident who uses a wheelchair. The city has three years to rewrite the evacuation plan, and must address the needs of the city’s disabled population.
The $2.1 million awarded for legal fees will be paid to the legal team of Disability Rights Advocates.