This week, in a win for both disability rights and consumer rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled that individuals who rely on hand controls to operate their cars and trucks have an equal right to test drive their vehicles before purchasing them. Here is the link if you would like to read the full decision: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2017/07/10/15-55633.pdf
Buying a new car is both exciting and a big decision. Cars give us freedom of movement, and are usually the second biggest purchase we make in our lives, after our homes. Because we are investing tens of thousands of dollars in a purchase we will own an average of about 6 years, most of us would never consider buying a car without taking it for a spin first. But that is exactly what California car dealerships have been able to force individuals who rely on hand controls to do every day, until now.
Temporary hand controls are inexpensive relative to the cost of a vehicle, easy to install, easy to remove, universal to virtually all vehicles, and do not require any permanent alteration to the vehicle or affect the functioning of any safety feature. In other words, there is no good reason a dealership cannot offer test drives to people who utilize hand controls.
Yet when Jack Karczewski, who is paralyzed from the waist down, wanted to test drive a Honda Odyssey in July 2014, the sales representatives and managers at DCH Honda of Mission Valley refused to even consider his request to use temporary hand controls, or do a modicum of research to find out how cheap and easy to install temporary hand controls are. Their refusal effectively banned not only Mr. Karczewski from shopping there, but anyone else who might rely on hand controls. The message was clear – If you use a wheelchair, your business is not welcome here.
Mr. Karczewski, rightly believing his money spends just as well as anyone else’s, sought redress in the Southern District of the United States District Court. Mr. Karczewskiwas represented by the Center for Disability Access. While the lower Court originally held that a car dealership is not required install temporary hand controls for test drives and dismissed Mr. Karczewski’s claims, on July 10, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, reversed that decision.
This month the Ninth Circuit, resolving a split among district courts, held that the Americans with Disabilities Act does in fact require businesses that are open to the public to “make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities.” In short, the higher court held DCH Honda had a duty to consider Mr. Karczewski’s request.
“This decision is more than a win for our client as an individual,” said Attorney Mark Potter. “Car dealerships across the nation now have a clear, affirmative duty to process these requests to provide hand controls for test drives. Rather than being allowed to maintain a blanket policy that hand controls are not provided, the dealerships will need analyze each request individually on a case-by-case basis. Dealerships will only be able to refuse to provide hand controls if they can show doing so is unreasonably burdensome. The end result is going to be that most large car dealerships are going to have to provide hand controls for test drives from now on.”