Disney Prevails in Lawsuit over Unlimited FastPass Access to its Rides for Disabled Guests
After a six-year legal battle, Disney has prevailed in a lawsuit brought against it by a mother who was refused her request for unlimited FastPass access to rides for her son with autism. The federal judge ruled that Disney's current system was adequate to protect access for disabled people and was under no obligation to make special provisions for this particular guest.
The lawsuit was filed by a mother with a 22-year old autistic son. The mother claimed that her son has no concept of time and has no ability to wait on the long lines that are often found at Disney Parks. The company had a previous policy of allowing unlimited FastPass rights to rides, but as described below, it was subject to extreme abuse by some.
Disney had changed the policy in favor of new rules that required disabled patrons to make advance reservations for rides. They would then show up at the right at the appointed time. They could no longer just go to the FastPass line as they had in the past.
The lawsuit was filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiff claimed that not allowing disabled patrons immediate access to rides in the park meant that they did not have the same ability to use the facilities as other non-disabled guests.
Disney Was Considering Experiences of its Other Guests
Disney had defended the suit in part by arguing that an unlimited FastPass right would give these guests far greater privileges than the average Disney guest. Disabled riders would be able to ride far more times in a day than other paying Disney customers. Moreover, if everyone was given unlimited FastPass privileges, already long wait times for Disney ride would increase dramatically.
The FastPass has led to counterfeiting and fraud as people have sold the accommodations that they have received from Disney to other guests who simply want to be able to cut the line. There was even a robust resale market on Craig's List among people who were taking advantage of an accommodation that Disney offered to disabled guests. One Disney employee witnessed someone reading off of a script on their cell phone in an attempt to obtain a FastPass. Another egregious abuse was that people hired disabled children to bring with them to the park to enable them to cut the lines.
The judge in the case sided with Disney. The judge noted the history of fraud associated with the program and wrote that adopting the plaintiff's viewpoint would fundamentally change Disney's business model and make it more difficult for all of the other guests at the park. Further, the judge noted that word of mouth would make things even more difficult. Families with unlimited FastPass access would put the word out on social media and alert other patrons that this loophole existed. Thus, even more families would try to obtain unlimited FastPass access.
While Disney must offer some accommodation for guests with disabilities, the judge's ruling stands for the fact that Disney is permitted to draw a line somewhere. The company is allowed to consider the experiences of its other guests while still giving some flexibility to disabled visitors.
There Are Dozens of Other Lawsuits Pending over the Same Exact Issue
The judge even allowed Disney to recover its costs for the trial, namely its legal fees. Given the fact that this legal battle went on for over six years, Disney's costs to defend the lawsuit could be considerable, placing the plaintiff is considerable financial distress. This could have a chilling effect on other similar lawsuits that were filed against Disney. One lawyer alone represents clients in roughly 60 different lawsuits regarding the same topic. At one point, the attorney claimed to have over 100 plaintiffs lined up to sue Disney. As of now, these cases are still awaiting trial. However, the judge's order that Disney could be paid its legal costs may force some of these future plaintiffs to withdraw their lawsuits.
This is yet another case where a company enacted a policy with the best of intentions, only to see it overrun by bad actors who acted callously and selfishly. Of course, immediate access to the rides would make a park visit more enjoyable for disabled guests, but the reprehensible conduct of some who simply cannot wait in line with everyone else forced Disney's hand to change the policy.
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