The ADA and test drives

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Dealerships are considered “public accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act and therefore are required to make reasonable modifications to allow disabled individuals the ability to access dealership facilities and services. This is not news if you’ve hired ADA consultants or dealt with an ADA lawsuit. However, while accommodations such as ramps, parking spaces and lowered retail counters may seem obvious (and call us if they do not!), new case law should put you on notice of another kind of accommodation customers may ask you to make: installing hand controls to allow disabled customers to test-drive a vehicle.

Several California dealers were sued in 2015 and 2016 for allegedly failing to install hand controls at the request of customers. While most dealers settled their cases, a San Diego-area dealer challenged the suit and won at the district court level. Plaintiff appealed, leading to the Ninth Circuit taking up the case. There, the court held that the suit could go forward, as the installation of hand-controls may be required to accommodate disabled customers to allow them to access the public services offered at the dealership.

Importantly, the Ninth Circuit did not rule that dealerships MUST provide or install hand controls. Instead, the Court found that dealerships may be required to do so if the accommodation is “reasonable.” The Court was silent as to what is reasonable, and your dealership should take advantage of the uncertainty regarding the term by being prepared to work with the customer to identify a reasonable accommodation if a disabled customer requests a test drive.

First, you should train your staff that if a customer requests an accommodation, the customer should not be told “no.” Instead, we recommend that your staff inform the customer that your dealership will work with the customer to identify a reasonable accommodation and refer the customer to the appropriate individual. Second, if this situation does arise, be prepared to follow through. In preparation for this situation, you should contact your manufacturer to determine if it has the ability to accommodate test drives with adaptive equipment. If your manufacturer is unable to help, work with the customer directly to identify a solution that works for both parties. For customers genuinely interested in a test drive, this kind of personal attention will likely resolve the issue to their satisfaction. For professional plaintiffs, your willingness to accommodate their request will make a lawsuit against you less attractive.