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
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
McDonald’s did not respond to requests for comment on the