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Disabled Darlington woman abandons court appeal on bus access rights
A DISABLED Darlington woman has abandoned her legal case against a bus company over its policy on spaces for wheelchair users.
ME sufferer, Jane Elliott, claimed disabled passengers were at a disadvantage as Arriva North-East operates a first come, first served policy on its wheelchair spaces.
As a result, drivers can ask those with pushchairs to move from designated spaces if a wheelchair user wants to board – but cannot insist on it.
The 60-year-old was due to have her test case heard at the Court of Appeal, in London, in November, claiming she could not board some buses because the disabled bay was occupied.
However her solicitors said she has been forced to drop the case because of civil justice reforms, which leaves claimants “at a substantial personal financial risk when bringing discrimination cases”.
Her solicitor, Chris Fry, of Unity Law, said the reforms, introduced in April 2013, meant Mrs Elliott would be liable to pay Arriva’s costs – said to be £150,000 – in the event she was unsuccessful following the two-day appeal.
He also said that had she won, Mrs Elliott would have to pay an insurance premium of more than £120,000.
He added: “If disabled claimants can’t hold service providers to account for what they perceive as discriminatory practices, it renders the Equality Act obsolete and breaches fundamental human rights which are likely to be the subject of further legal action.”
The appeal was in response to a ruling at Middlesbrough County Court which found Arriva had not breached the Equality Act following an incident in 2011.
Judge Peter Bowers had rejected Mrs Elliott's claim for damages, saying she had not suffered a substantial disadvantage because she was able to board the next bus.
He also found that Arriva's policy of asking mothers with pushchairs to move, but not insisting that they do so, was a reasonable adjustment to make for the benefit of disabled passengers.
Nigel Featham, regional managing director for Arriva North-East, said the firm was committed to making buses as accessible as possible.
“We are always open and willing to discuss issues affecting people with disabilities,” he said.
“We were disappointed this matter ever went to court but welcomed Judge Bowers’ decision when it was issued in May 2013.”
Meanwhile, a further appeal against First Bus Group will still go ahead.
In September, a judge at Leeds County Court ruled the firm’s first come, first served policy had substantially disadvantaged a wheelchair user and was unlawful discrimination in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
First Bus Group is appealing the decision and a ruling is due in November.
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