On November 8, 2018, Anna* and her family fled their home in response to the Camp Fire mandatory evacuation. The massive fire destroyed more than 18,000 homes, displacing 50,000 residents in the town of Paradise, California, and surrounding areas.
They didn’t have friends or relatives in neighboring cities to stay with and soon discovered that nearby refugee camps were unable to accommodate Anna’s special health and mobility needs. Anna had previously suffered a spinal cord injury that rendered her an incomplete paraplegic, requiring the use of a wheelchair.
Anna, along with her husband and 5-year-old autistic son, continued to drive further in search of lodging, but failed to find a wheelchair-accessible vacancy until they reached a town that was 90-miles from home.
Just a few days later, Anna and other refugees met with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel in the motel parking lot to learn about emergency benefits available through the government.
On the way back to her room, Anna encountered an elderly woman using a walker, who asked if she could pass in front of Anna into the motel laundry room. Naturally, Anna agreed and moved her wheelchair back a few inches to allow the other woman space to proceed across safely.
As Anna started to wheel backwards, her right wheel rolled into an open sewage drain along the laundry room wall, tipping her chair over. Anna fell hard into the 4.5-foot-long ditch, causing injuries that further impacted her mobility and exposed her to contaminated drainage water that resulted in a dangerous infection.
Being a place of public accommodation, motels have a duty to provide a safe environment for their guests as defined by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act. The drainage ditch that caused Anna’s fall was not in compliance with applicable regulations that define the dimensions of ground surface openings and their direction related to the dominant direction of travel.
The motel has since installed a high-visibility safety cover over the drain.
Despite the clear violation of ADA requirements and damages the fall had on Anna’s physical and mental health, the motel was reluctant to take responsibility for the incident and offered an initial settlement of just $25,000.
The legal team at the Arnold Law Firm fought back, proving how her injuries were caused by the property owner’s negligence and unsafe conditions at the property. Anna’s final settlement was $275,000 – more than ten times the motel’s original offer.
*name changed for confidentiality