CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) – Chicago has become a destination for out-of-state plaintiffs who wish to file certain Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, a state civil justice reform group says.
A class action lawsuit filed against Illinois-based McDonald’s Corp. by a Louisiana man alleges the company’s drive-through policy keeps blind people from eating at the restaurant during late-night hours. It was recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Travis Akin of the Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch said it is likely “no accident” that Louisiana resident Scott Magee and his New Orleans-based attorneys chose Chicago for the case.
“This is a cottage industry,” Akin told Legal Newsline.
He noted that 77 of the 94 related lawsuits filed in Northern Illinois involved eight plaintiffs and one lawyer.
Akin said personal injury lawyers want this trend to grow, but that Illinois citizens should pressure the legislature for reform and stop the trend before it gets out of control.
According to the lawsuit, McDonald’s offers late-night hours to make its products available to the public for longer periods of time; however, customers in vehicles are only allowed to use the drive-through system during late evening and early morning operating times.
Because McDonald’s does not allow pedestrians to use the drive-through, “the blind are totally precluded from accessing defendant’s products during late night hours,” the lawsuit said.
Akin said the fact that Chicago is the third-largest media market in the United States could also contribute to the venue choice, with attorneys hoping the publicity will help their plaintiffs’ attempts to gain class action status.
If Magee’s case is successful, Akin said it would be a very interesting development from a legal standpoint, as it “could open up a floodgate” of class actions against other chains and affect other policies, creating “interesting case law.”
In addition, Akin suggested that the drive-through access issue could be resolved through means other than a lawsuit. He said he is not sure that ADA law actually covers this specific situation, and that many other chains have similar policies in place in an effort to protect their own employees, as well as their customers.
Akin said he does not believe it is McDonald’s intention to exclude blind customers, or anyone else, from being able to purchase food at their restaurants, and that a solution could come through “a conversation,” rather than litigation.
Magee’s attorney, Roberto Costales, said the lawsuit is about ensuring the equality promoted by the ADA is upheld to allow the disabled to enjoy the same privileges afforded to others.
“Mr. Magee – and millions of blind Americans like him – are totally precluded from buying a late-night dinner from their local McDonald’s,” Costales said. “Our firm handles a lot of discrimination cases, and never have we seen such an egregious example of a class of people being denied access to a public place.”
Costales said Magee is not asking McDonald’s to change its food, its service or any other fundamental part of its operation, nor is he asking for an accommodation that would be cost-prohibitive for the company.
“This is a case about dignity, equality and respect,” Costales said. “We hope this lawsuit causes McDonald’s to re-examine its policies and work with us to find a solution that accommodates the millions of blind Americans in this country.”
Costales said a preliminary status conference is scheduled for July 29 in Chicago. He said he expects McDonald’s to bring its thousands of franchisees into the case in an attempt to escape liability.
“This would be unfortunate for all of these small business owners, who have no control over McDonald’s policies and procedures,” Costales said.
McDonald’s did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.