If a driver wished to save a few minutes with a single omission or two, nothing would accomplish this goal better than failing to secure a wheelchair. And without the chair secured, securing the passenger into it would be moot. Because schedules in paratransit and transit service in particular are often so tight, the failure to secure wheelchairs and their occupants is common. In non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) service (sometimes referred to as “ambulette” service), where unfair and counter-intuitive reimbursement rates collide with a lack of knowledge about efficient scheduling, the failure to secure wheelchairs and wheelchair passengers into them is epidemic.
The full range of factors that contribute to these failures is actually broad. But tight schedules is the paramount reason for them. As such, these omissions are essentially safety compromises (see safetycompromises.com). And while defendants may argue that the wheelchair occupant unfastened his or her own seatbelt — a highly unlikely act of which many wheelchair occupants are not even capable — absolutely no wheelchair occupant “strapped in” can reach any of the four securement points of their properly-secured chairs (much less know how to operate the attachment devices). Plus, a seasoned expert in wheelchair and passenger securement can usually determine that a wheelchair had tipped over in the incident even when, immediately afterwards, the driver picked it up, attached it to the floor hardware, picked up the victim, plopped him or her back into the chair and completed this masquerade by affixing the vehicle’s three-point occupant restraint system. The occupant flying out of the wheelchair because he or she was not seat-belted into it speaks for itself. Again, notwithstanding the unlikely claim that the passenger deliberately unfastened these belts.