Intersection of Personal Injury and Disability Law

Both state and federal statutory laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, and impose certain affirmative duties owed by private and public entities to individuals with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (including so-called “Section 504” claims), and the Minnesota Human Rights Act require “reasonable accommodations” be provided to applicable individuals with qualifying disabilities. Disabilities under the law are generally evaluated on a functional basis – does an individual’s particular physical or psychological health condition substantially limit one or more life activity? With certain potential exceptions, a substantial limitation generally involves a chronic health condition, versus a more acute injury or illness, but can include a chronic condition in which acute flare-ups or exacerbations cause significant impairments, such as asthma. Of particular interest now, given the large amount of COVID infections in the United States, one issue that will likely need to be addressed by both regulators, lawmakers, and the courts, is the degree to which COVID – and in particular chronic COVID symptomology (“long COVID”) – may be considered a qualifying disability under federal and state statutes and regulations.

While most personal injury claims are cognizable under state common law (referred to as “tort” law, developed by court precedent versus acts of legislation), both state and federal statutes recognize causes of action to recover compensatory damages for personal injuries in certain circumstances. In the context of statutory disability law in Minnesota (state or federal claims, in state or federal court), compensatory damages can potentially be recovered for a personal injury that is the result of willful or deliberately indifferent conduct, versus simple negligence, that violates a pertinent disability statute and causes injury.

Links to state and federal disability law information and general guidance are set forth below: