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Buggies v Wheelchairs – who wins?
The case of FirstGroup Plc v Doug Paulley is a case more of anecdotal interest than legal, especially given that it created quite a publicity stir at the time. The case concerned Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, who issued a County Court claim for disability discrimination/failure to make reasonable adjustments against a bus company when he found that he could not board a bus because the space reserved for wheelchair users was occupied by a woman with a buggy containing a small child. The driver requested the woman to move her buggy but she refused. The bus operator’s policy was that other customers would be asked to move from the wheelchair space to accommodate a wheelchair user, but that if they refused to do so, the wheelchair user would not be able to board.
Mr Paulley took his claim to the County Court which decided that the bus operator was in breach of a duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act by failing to require those users occupying the space for wheelchairs to move if a wheelchair user needed the space.
This was overturned in the Court of Appeal. While the Court of Appeal was of the view that the “first come, first served policy” in respect of the wheelchair space would indeed put wheelchair users at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who did not use wheelchairs, it did not consider that the duty to make reasonable adjustments extended to requiring passengers to vacate the space whenever it was wanted by a wheelchair user. In any event such a rule would ineffective; it could not be enforced under criminal law and would be impractical to introduce as a condition of carriage. It would also potentially cause a disproportionate disruption to other passengers, especially those with buggies who, having boarded the bus, may then be required to leave the bus prior to when they would otherwise want to do so in order to accommodate a wheelchair user.
This legal update is provided for general information purposes only and should not be applied to specific circumstances without prior consultation with us.
For further details on any of the issues covered in this update please contact Gemma Ospedale, Partner in Employment on 020 7583 2222.
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