Filed by a nonprofit disability rights law firm, the lawsuit is on behalf of four wheelchair users who attended games in 2018 and is against the Mariners and ballpark owner Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD). In the complaint, it is alleged that many of T-Mobile Park’s features are in violation with federal and state laws, including accessible seating that is obstructed or too far from the field, limited access to various sections of the ballpark, and other issues. In the end, the scope was trimmed to four complaints, and after a bench trial the court ruled in favor of the Mariners and the PFD.
The Ninth Circuit reversed that decision in an opinion filed yesterday after an appeal, saying that ADA Accessible Stadium guidelines had been improperly applied in the original decision. Specifically, the ADA guidelines say those in wheelchairs must be able to see the playing field even if fans in two rows in front of the handicapped seating are standing. While the original decision held that those in wheelchairs could see the field even with fans standing in the first row in front of the handicapped seating, the presiding judge in the original trial did not consider whether they could see the field if fans were standing two rows in front of the wheelchair section. (Another part of the opinion had little to do with ballpark sightlines and instead discussed whether the ADA Accessible Guidelines are really guidelines or merely suggestions, and whether a more rigorous standard is warranted.) So back to trial court we go.
Several MLB ballpark operators have faced similar suits. A very similar complaint was filed against the Baltimore Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority, with often blocked views and a broken wheelchair lift at Oriole Park at Camden Yards being among the issues mentioned in that suit. Also, the Chicago Cubs were the subject of a complaint over the ADA conditions at Wrigley Field, with a lawsuit alleging that the seating options offered to the disabled less numerous and of lower quality than existing before the 1060 Project was initiated, which upgraded virtually every portion of the ballpark.