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Summary Judgment Affirmed in Disney Segway Case

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By William Peacock, Esq. on July 22, 2013 3:55 PM

Some might call Tina Baughman a vexatious litigant or unscrupulous plaintiff. Others would label her a crusader for those with limited mobility. Here is her record, per the court’s opinion:

“In 2005, Baughman filed a complaint against Sav-On Drug Store alleging negligence per se and violations of the ADA, the DPA, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and Health and Safety Code section 19955, et seq. The lawsuit concerned access to Sav-On Drug Stores restroom.

In 2006, Baughman filed a lawsuit against the Department of Motor Vehicles on much the same grounds. This lawsuit also involved the use of a restroom. The case settled when the [DMV] agreed to bring their restrooms into compliance and paid Baughman $4,000 in damages.

In 2006, Baughman brought the same type of lawsuit against Santa Monica Ford. This lawsuit also settled when Santa Monica Ford agreed to bring its restrooms into compliance and paid Baughman $4,000 in damages.”

This lawsuit was filed, not on the basis of ADA accessible restrooms, but because Baughman desired to use a Segway to traverse Disneyland with her children. She alleges that she can't (and never has) used an electric wheelchair because her muscular dystrophy makes getting in-and-out of the chair difficult. It was filed by the same firm that represented her in the prior lawsuits.

Interestingly enough, in the three prior lawsuits, she alleged that she does use an electric wheelchair or scooter. The case wasn't decided on judicial estoppel reasons, however. It was decided on uncontroverted evidence that Segways are unsafe to use in crowded areas, such as Disneyland.

If this all sounds a bit familiar to you, it's probably because the Ninth Circuit, one year ago, issued a decision in the separate federal ADA case, noted the judcial estoppel issues, and remanded it for consideration of the safety issue.

Disney provided expert testimony about how Segways function. Much like a unicycle or a hyperactive child, they are constantly in motion. A single error can propel the vehicle forward or backward, with a high risk of injury to either the rider or a bystander. Disney also submitted the ironic evidence that the owner of Segway died when he apparently lost control of his Segway and careened off of a cliff.

Baughman's evidence consisted of two main points: she had never had an accident in her extensive time on the device and that Disney used Segways, both in areas closed to the public and in pre-opening private guided tours. She presented no expert testimony, and only presented a prior deposition of Disney's expert discussing the company's use of the devices.

As we all know from basic civil procedure, in the summary judgment stage, the moving party (here, Disney), has the burden of presenting evidence to negate an element or to show a complete defense to the cause of action. If successful, the plaintiff has to rebut and show triable issues of fact.

Her unsupported assertions of her own experience and Disney's use of Segways in limited non-public settings was insufficient to rebut Disney's defense.

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