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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Disney's Ban on Segways

Leah Zanolla | Posted: Aug 31, 2012 | Updated: Oct 19, 2014 - 9:25:27 AM
by Jack Burgin

In a significant victory for Disney, a federal appeals court unanimously upheld Disney's safety-based ban on unrestricted use of Segways within Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort. In 2007, three individuals filed a class action lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act seeking to overturn Disney's ban on the use of Segways in Disney's theme parks. The parties ultimately decided to settle the class action lawsuit and received lower court approval for the settlement in April 2011. Several individuals objected to the settlement and appealed the decision. The United States Department of Justice also argue the settlement should be rejected.

In a decision released August 30, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, sitting in Atlanta, Georgia, affirmed the lower court's approval of the settlement. The court rejected the Department of Justice argument that Disney's safety ban violated ADA regulations issued in 2010 explaining that "During an extensive fairness hearing before the district court, Hale (Disney's Safety Officer) testified regarding the safety risks posed by the operation of Segways in Disney Resorts. The very factors Hale considered before deciding that Segways are too dangerous for operation in Disney Resorts are the very factors facilities are required to consider under the new regulation... The district court found that based upon this testimony Disney is likely to succeed at trial" in showing that the Segway ban does not violate the ADA.

The court also explained why its decision did not conflict with the July 2012 decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (in California) in Baughman v. Walt Disney World Co. In the earlier decision, the Ninth Circuit instructed a lower court to decide whether Disney could ban Segways on safety grounds. But in yesterday's decision, the Eleventh Circuit explained that the lower court had conducted a "well reasoned analysis" which found that Disney's safety-based ban did not violate the ADA regulations.

The terms of the settlement permit both Disney theme parks to continue the blanket ban on unrestricted Segway use. Disney will also be able to require guests wanting to use standing mobility aids to rent the electrically powered vehicle developed by Disney (for the same fee it charges for an electronic convenience vehicle (EVC)). Disney has also promised "to use its discretion about waiving the rental fee in particular circumstances (such as when qualified guests bring their own Segway)."

The effect of the Eleventh Circuit's decision on Ms. Baughman's Segway lawsuit against Disneyland is not entirely clear. The settlement terms prevent Ms. Baughman (or anyone else) from seeking to overturn Disney's ban on unrestricted Segway use. The settlement does not appear to prohibit Ms. Baughman from seeking other relief (such as damages) so long as she does not ask the court to overturn Disney's ban on Segways. A hearing in Ms. Baughman's lawsuit is set for September 11, 2012.

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