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Deaf Couple Sue Hotel Over Fire Warnings

November 18, 1994|L.D. STRAUB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WESTLAKE VILLAGE — A deaf couple who were left sleeping in their beds during a hotel fire last year in Pismo Beach filed a lawsuit Thursday against hotel operators for failing to provide emergency warning systems for the hearing-impaired.

David and Jodie Gardner were on a weekend vacation at the Sea Venture hotel in Pismo Beach last November to escape the fires surrounding their Westlake Village neighborhood when they awoke to the smell of smoke.

"We didn't think anything of it at first," David Gardner said. "We had the windows open, and thought it was campfire smoke (that) was coming up from the beach."

When David Gardner left the room to investigate, he found the hotel hallway smoky and drenched with water. A firefighter--who was reportedly shocked to find anyone left in the building--immediately evacuated the couple.

The fire, which burned for two hours, had been extinguished for an hour by the time the Gardners were found, officials said.

Michael Kidd, spokesman for Western Inns, a hotel management company affiliated with the Sea Venture, said the firm had not yet been served with any legal papers.

"The good news is there was not a single injury in this fire, not to anyone, not even a burn," Kidd said. "Honestly, that is all you can pray for."

The Sea Venture is set to reopen "any day now," according to Kidd.

At the time of the fire, a hotel spokesperson reportedly told a local newspaper that the hotel was not aware the couple was deaf. But the couple maintains that they informed the hotel of the fact upon check-in.

The Gardners charge that the hotel failed to comply with the accessibility guidelines in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. A hotel with more than 50 rooms, about the size of the Sea Venture, must provide three rooms to accommodate hearing-impaired patrons, according to Kathleen Wohn of the Western Center for Disability Rights.

The special accommodations are supposed to include a fire alarm that flashes light bright enough to wake a sleeping person, a special telephone, a doorbell with a flashing light, and a specially designed alarm clock.

"For the most part, all of the things needed to make a room accessible to the hard-of-hearing are portable devices, so they could be installed as they are needed to make almost any room accessible," Wohn said.

The Gardners are being represented by Wohn and civil rights attorney Alexis Kashar, who has handled several cases alleging ADA violations. These have included cases filed this year against Burger King, Weight Watchers and the Burbank Police Department, all for failing to provide interpretation for the hearing-impaired.

"We just wanted to know why we were missed by the firemen," said Gardner. "We felt embarrassed, scared, shocked. The anger came later."

Gardner says he has traveled to many other hotels since the fire and found many of them out of compliance with ADA guidelines. Often, he said, managers have never even heard of the required devices.

"Our main goal is to wake up the hotel industry," said Gardner. "In my case, I was very lucky, but there are 21 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in this country. We have to prevent this from happening again."

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