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49ers Reach $24 Million Settlement in ADA Class Action Lawsuit

A California federal judge grants final approval to a settlement between the Bay Area football team and fans with mobility disabilities.
By Simpluris Research
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Law360 reported that on the eve of the 30th anniversary that the American Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh gave final approval for the San Francisco 49ers to pay $24 million in a class-action settlement with fans with mobility disabilities.

In the case, Nevarez, et al. v. Forty Niners Football Co., plaintiffs Abdul and Priscilla Nevarez, and Sebastian DeFrancesco filed a lawsuit against the Forty Niners Football Company, Forty Niners Stadium Company, Forty Niners Stadium Management Company, the City of Santa Clara, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, Live Nation Entertainment, and Ticketmaster.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Nevarez requires a wheelchair for mobility, and his wife, Priscilla accompanies him. 

The Nevarezes visited Levi's Stadium for football games and other events on August 24,  2014, April 18, 2015, November 29, 2015, and April 2, 2016. "The Nevarezes allege that, on each occasion, the Nevarezes faced barriers in accessing the Stadium because of Mr. Nevarez's disability. Mr. and Mrs. Nevarez allege that they could not locate elevators at the Stadium, that a suite at the Stadium lacked accessible seating for Mr. Nevarez, that it was difficult for the Nevarezes to access the Stadium from the Stadium's parking lots, that the Stadium's security checkpoints were not large enough for Mr. Nevarez's wheelchair; that the Stadium's box office ticket window ("Box Office") was not accessible to Mr. Nevarez; that the Nevarezes had difficulty purchasing tickets for accessible seating in advance of events; and that the Nevarezes had difficulty obtaining sufficient companion seating to allow Mr. Nevarez to sit together with his family and friends."

Bush signs the ADA into law

President George H.W. Bush signs the ADA into law in 1990.

The Nevarezes submitted a claim to the City of Santa Clara for their visits, and several times the City rejected them as "untimely."

DeFrancesco is a 49er season ticket holder. He is a quadriplegic and also requires a wheelchair for mobility. He alleges that "prior to purchasing his 2016 season tickets, DeFrancesco informed Stadium Defendants that he was a wheelchair user and that he needed accessible seating. DeFrancesco was assured that he would receive accessible seating."

However, when DeFrancesco arrived at the game, his seats could only be accessed by a flight of stairs and was told that he had to apply for a seat relocation. He also stated that "in attending events at the Stadium, he experienced barriers to access such as heavy doors, lack of accessible signage, and lack of accessible counters at the Stadium's vending services."

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated:

  1. Title III of the ADA
  2. Title II of the ADA
  3. California's Unruh Civil Rights Act

The Court preliminarily approved the Settlement Agreement on March 9, 2020 and certified the following classes for:

  • "Injunctive Relief Class: All persons with mobility disabilities who use wheelchairs, scooters, or other mobility aids who will attempt to purchase accessible seating for a public event at Levi’s Stadium and who will be denied equal access to the Stadium’s facilities, services, accessible seating, parking, amenities, and privileges, including ticketing;
  • Companion Injunctive Relief Class: All persons who are companions of persons with mobility disabilities who use wheelchairs, scooters or other mobility aids and who have used or will use companion seating for public events located at Levi’s Stadium;
  • Damages Class: All persons with mobility disabilities who use wheelchairs, scooters or other mobility aids who have purchased, attempted to purchase, or for whom third parties purchased accessible seating and who have been denied equal access to Levi’s Stadium’s facilities, services, accessible seating, parking, amenities, and privileges at an event controlled by the Forty Niners Football Company."

The Court held a Final Approval hearing on July 16, 2020 to "consider final approval of the Settlement Agreement and to determine, among other things, whether the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate." Judge Koh held that "Having considered the motions, the oral arguments, the relevant law, and the record, in this case, the Court GRANTS the Plaintiffs’ motion for final approval of the class action settlement." 

Nevarez v. Forty Niners

Nevarez, et al. v. Forty Niners Football Co.

The settlement provides for a "$24 million non-reversionary damages fund, which the plaintiffs believe to be “the largest such fund ever achieved in a case alleging claims under the public facilities and accommodations provisions of the ADA.”

Of the $24 million, $5,000 was awarded to each plaintiff, $12 million went toward attorney fees for class counsel, and $1.2 in costs and expenses to class counsel. 

Moreover, the settlement requires that Levi Stadium “will remediate more than 2,600 barriers...the parking lots and the pedestrian rights of way that serve the Stadium, which is over 99% of the barriers identified by Plaintiffs." The fixes will bring Levi’s Stadium “into compliance with the 2010 [Americans with Disability Act Standards] or the 2019 [California Building Code], whichever provides greater access, thus dramatically improving accessibility and usability for a person with mobility disabilities and their non-disabled companions.” The defendants' costs to remediate the over 2,600 barriers were estimated to be at least $12.2 million.

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