ADA Blog


Do Temporary Impairments Caused by Injury Constitute Disabilities

The following comes from Brian Spitz of the Spitz Law Firm in Ohio.

All employees are protected under #Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Ohio #R.C. § 4112.02(A) from being #discriminated against or #retaliated against by their #employers on the basis of their actual or perceived #disability. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit addressed the question of whether an employee can have a “disability” under the #ADA when the #impairment in question is #temporary and #causedbyaninjury.

In Summers v. Altarum Institute, the Court held that a “temporary impairment caused by an injury” may be a covered disability under the 2008 Amendments to the ADA if the impairment is “sufficiently severe to substantially limit a major life activity.” The employee in question had fallen while getting off of a train, and according to testimony from his physician, would be injured for about seven months to a year depending on treatment. The employee requested that be allowed to work remotely until he was able to fully walk again, but instead, the employer suggested short term disability and then terminated his employment.

In its decision, the Court focused not only on the duration of the injury in determining whether it could be considered a “disability,” but also the severity of the injury as well. According to the Court, the more severe the impairment the shorter the duration needed for the impairment to substantially limit a major life activity. Thus, in the case at bar, because the employee’s injury rendered him virtually unable to walk (thus, a very severe impairment), the fact that the impairment would only last seven to twelve months did not dissuade the Court from finding that the impairment constituted a disability under the ADA.

The Summers decision, in effect, adds another way for an employee to seek protection under disability discrimination laws even when their impairment is not a permanent condition. Indeed, if the impairment is severe enough, the fact that it is temporary may not be enough for the employer to get the claim dismissed. Not only would similar holdings expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA and allow for expanded protection for employees under the law, but it also would affect claims for reasonable accommodations as well, forcing employers to have that conversation with an injured employee before sending them packing.

Other courts have used a lesser standard of temporary disability. As our disability discrimination lawyers previously blogged, a simple broken leg has been held to be a disability under the ADA for the purposes of being able to request accommodations and determining if there was a wrongful termination.

 This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.