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Brown for the Disabled

On Dan Brown’s pro bono work to make New York more wheelchair accessible

Published in 2015 New York Metro Super Lawyers magazine

On the day before Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, Kenneth Martinez sat at a bus stop in Far Rockaway hoping to get to a shelter in advance of the storm. Each bus that arrived, though, was packed, without the room to accommodate him and his motorized wheelchair. Fearing the wheelchair would short from the rain, he eventually returned to his apartment. The next day he called 311 and 911 to get evacuation assistance. It never came. Hours later, neighbors rescued Martinez, who was floating and nearly up to his ceiling in an apartment full of water.

Martinez was one of 35 witnesses who testified against the Bloomberg administration in a class action lawsuit over the city’s emergency-preparedness system.

“No one had ever brought anything like this in New York,” says Dan Brown, a litigator with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, who took on the case pro bono as co-counsel with Disability Rights Advocates. As part of the 119-page decision, the city committed to a complete overhaul of its emergency management systems, which now includes a much-expanded role for the disability coordinator.

Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, et al. v. Bloomberg is one of several cases on which Brown has worked that is changing the landscape for a subset of the New York population. “New York is not a friendly place—especially for those who are disabled,” Brown says. 

The issue is personal for Brown, whose brother became quadriplegic just before his 21st birthday. Months after Brown began practicing law, in fact, he filed a suit against the New York City Road Runners on behalf of his brother and eight other plaintiffs, alleging discrimination against wheelchair racers in the New York City Marathon. “My brother had two very bad experiences trying to compete in the marathon,” says Brown. “The first year, he was told to start so early that he finished before the race even began.” The case resulted in the creation of an official wheelchair division of the marathon.

In another major victory, Brown and Disability Rights Advocates negotiated terms with the city and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which was only 1.8 percent wheelchair accessible when they brought the case in 2011, to become 50 percent accessible by 2020.

Even though the taxicab case was leveled against the city, it was hailed by all parties as a historic victory and much-needed change. “We always convince our adversaries to join our cause,” Brown says.

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