The wheels of justice grind slowly, which is why you may not remember that waaaaay back in December of 2011, Tommy Maliszewski’s Route 40 Paintball Park in Maryland was being sued by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland for refusing to allow a group of 6 blind customers to play at their field.
If I remind you that the internet was up in arms because ‘someone was saying that the “no blind shooting” rule was discriminatory’ perhaps it will jog your memory a bit. That was the word going around, but it turned out to be incorrect reporting; the case was not over potentially discriminatory language being used in paintball, but over whether or not the American’s with Disability Act (the Federal Law that made everyone put wheelchair ramps up) applied to a paintball facility.
68Caliber offered some coverage and an editorial on the subject back in 2011; we discussed the case with Tommy Mau Mau in an extensive telephone conversation (once his son Julian realized that it wasn’t some fly-by-night calling to make trouble), at which time Tom requested that 68Caliber not provide running coverage of the law suit. Suffice to say that Tom and family were just as mystified by the situation as any other field operator in the country would be.
But enough of the past. Here’s the skinny: The Federal District Court found in favor of Route 40 Paintball because of the specific circumstances of the case. The take-away for field owners is this: you’ve got to make your facilities accessible to the handicapped and that INCLUDES blind individuals. You don’t have to unduly burden your business to do so, but determining exactly what that means will require legal counsel. And that means -
You need to get a review of the practices at your field to determine if you are in compliance; Route 40 Paintball Park now has a braille version of their waiver and safety rules on hand at their facility, for example.
If you want to keep yourself OUT of Federal court, you might also want to institute something like the following procedure when talking to potential customers: “ please let us know in advance if you have any special needs so we can take any steps necessary to accommodate you.” (With every customer and on every piece of communication your field produces -flyers, posters, webpages, you name it!)
and figure out an objective way to assess the ability of anyone to play in a manner that won’t cause a threat of harm to others. You need to come up with the procedure, get it vetted (attorney familiar with ADA), you need to train all personnel that interact with customers and you need to apply it to every potential customer that walks in your door. (Start with the intoxicated: none of us allow an obviously impaired individual to play – but how do you know they are impaired? What OBJECTIVE criteria do you use? If you kick them out – how do you document it for future use? Stuff to think about!)
You all ought to know that early on in this case it wasn’t looking so good for paintball. The judge in the case almost issued a summary judgement in favor of the blind players. Ultimately the case was tried without jury and the court found that because the group of blind players arrived over an hour late for their scheduled game time, the field had to make a snap-judgement as to whether they could be accommodated in a safe manner; such forced spur of the moment decisions, even when in violation of ADA rules, can sometimes get you an out and it did so in this particular case. (That’s NOT legal advice btw; the decision in this case was a very narrow one, based on the specific findings of fact in the case and such will not apply to other situations, even if they bare a close resemblance. Read that as “Get a Lawyer”)
I’m tempted to go off on the whole idea of blind players participating in what is almost an entirely sighted activity (frankly I can’t think of any activity other than driving that doesn’t rely so heavily on sight), but I’ll leave that alone for now. Not that I’m against it IF a safe way for everyone involved can be found. (Some enterprising souls out there in paintball R&D land – that means “opportunity”.)
Below you’ll find PDF transcripts of the (rejection) of summary judgment and the final resolution.
Bottom line for field owners?
The ADA applies to your business
You are probably NOT in compliance with its requirements
There are people out there who make a living by suing businesses on the thinnest of excuses and they probably know the law better than you do