Wheelchair users sues Scarsdale, Yonkers malls over disability access
Americas, October 5 2011
Bronx, NY: A Bronx man who uses a wheelchair is accusing three Scarsdale and Yonkers shopping centers of discrimination, alleging each property has features that hinder disabled people.
Modesto Hernandez has filed more than a dozen accessibility lawsuits in recent years, including against the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers, the Nanuet Mall and the Bronx Zoo in 2010. His most recent lawsuits, filed in federal court on Sept. 15, allege the Midway Shopping Center in Scarsdale and the Central Plaza and Tanglewood shopping centers in Yonkers are violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and New York’s Civil Rights Law.
Hernandez claims that the shopping centers have inaccessible parking for disabled people on excessively sloped ground, badly designed curb cuts for wheelchairs and excessively high counters, among other alleged deficiencies.
The lawsuits demand that the court order the shopping centers to alter their facilities to make them more accessible to disabled people and award Hernandez unspecified damages plus attorney’s fees.
Louis Mussman, whose Miami-based firm Ku & Mussman filed Hernandez’s suits, said the Americans with Disabilities Act has been law since 1990.
“In our opinion, it’s about time that these properties get themselves up to code,” said Mussman, who declined to allow Hernandez to be interviewed. “Our position basically is when you bring one of these lawsuits, you put everyone in the area on notice to get your property up to code.”
Urstadt Biddle Properties of Greenwich, which controls the Midway and Central Plaza shopping centers, declined to comment on Hernandez’s allegations, citing the pending litigation.
The Tanglewood Shopping Center’s chief executive officer, Richard Braverman, could not be reached for comment.
Mussman said his client is a wheelchair repairman whose job takes him throughout the region making deliveries and house calls.
“He’s all over the county and if he needs to buy something, he’ll go to the shopping centers, and if he sees a problem, he’ll call us,” Mussman said.
The Cross County Shopping Center, Nanuet Mall and the Bronx Zoo suits have been settled.
Mussman declined to discuss the terms of the Cross County settlement, citing its confidentiality.
The Bronx Zoo settlement is available in the public record. The February 2011 agreement required the park to make 84 changes at the park’s entrances, in signage, restrooms, parking lots and animal exhibits. The Bronx Zoo’s changes included lowering a handrail in the World of Reptiles exhibit, installing sufficiently accessible tables in the Terrace Cafe and a redesign of the paths at the Tiger Mountain exhibit to reduce changes in level.
Westchester Disabled on the Move’s executive director Melvyn Tanzman said his organization was not aware of Hernandez’s suits and had not received any complaints from him about the malls he sued. Tanzman said his group took action against the Midway Shopping Center three or four years ago.
“We settled, they redid their parking and made sure there was disability parking in various areas,” Tanzman said. “They adhered to the terms of the agreement we set with them.”