Expanded Disability Definition Under ADA

The Fourth Circuit became the first circuit to apply the expanded definition of “disability” under the 2008 amendment to the American with Disabilities Act. Summers v. Altarum Institute, Corp., 740 F.3d 325 (2014). The case was brought under the “actual injury” prong of the Act defined as, “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”  Under the old Act, “disability” was strictly construed resulting in courts excluding impairments that did not persist for a year or longer from coverage.  Regulations promulgated with the new Act direct that the term “substantially limits” be “construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage”  and provide that “an impairment lasting or expecting to last fewer than six months can be substantially limiting” under the actual injury prong.

In Summers, the Fourth Circuit reversed the lower court’s holding that the plaintiff’s condition was temporary (7 -12 months), noting that the new regulations state that duration of impairment is only one factor in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity and an impairment for a short period may be covered “if sufficiently severe.”  The Court found that the plaintiff had alleged an impairment which sufficiently limited his ability to walk for a period of seven to twelve months which was sufficiently severe to withstand a motion to dismiss.  Reversed and remanded to the district court.

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