Friday, Dec 19, 2014

Disabled Palm Harbor woman sues Highland Lakes for barring her from boat

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PALM HARBOR -

Her arms and legs left immobile by multiple sclerosis, Anne Kiekhofer doesn’t take advantage of many of the amenities offered by Highland Lakes, a 55-and-over community overlooking Lake Tarpon.

Not the 27-hole executive golf course. Not the tennis courts. Not the Olympic-size swimming pool.

But the former nurse, 69, diagnosed with the disease when she was in her early 30s, enjoyed rides aboard the homeowners association’s pontoon boats.

She especially liked the 10:30 a.m. tour, with a stop at a lakeside restaurant where she could get something to eat with her husband.

But Kiekhofer no longer is allowed on the Highland Lakes boats.

Last month she filed a lawsuit against the Homeowners Association of Highland Lakes, maintaining it discriminated against her because of her disabled condition.

According to the lawsuit — it was filed on her behalf by Kiekhofer’s husband, Roger, who has power of attorney — the homeowners association’s board of directors stated: “per policy anyone who is incapable of embarking on the pontoon boats on their own will not be permitted access.”

It wasn’t always this way.

The Kiekhofers, whose permanent residence is in Wisconsin, bought their condo on Mission Grove Drive for $40,000 in 2009. The association’s two 24-foot pontoon boats were a main attraction, said Roger Kiekhofer, 70.

Early on, the couple attended a dinner for the captains who pilot the boats, Roger Kiekhofer said. At the dinner, he said, a boating committee member told him the association would make arrangements so his wife could ride on the vessels.

The Kiekhofers were grateful. The couple said they enjoy the water.

To ride on the pontoon boat, Anne Kiekhofer acquired a new wheelchair — one narrower than the one she had — that could squeeze through a passageway onto the vessels. She rode on the boats for the following two years, sometimes with guests.

That changed in February, Roger Kiekhofer said. After the couple made a reservation for themselves and guests, he said, they arrived at the dock and boarded a boat only to be told Anne Kiekhofer had to get off. The captain didn’t want someone in a wheelchair on the boat, her husband said.

Roger Kiekhofer picked up his wife and placed her on a bench seat, then collapsed the wheelchair, the lawsuit says. But at the end of the journey the captain told the Kiekhofers it was her last ride, Roger Kiekhofer said.

“When we were leaving the boat he said she would never ride the boat again,” he said. Kiekhofer subsequently was told the reason was insurance regulations; the insurer didn’t allow wheelchairs, and the captain wasn’t supposed to help someone board.

Later, after Roger Kiekhofer learned parents were allowed to carry children onto the pontoon boat, he suggested doing the same with his wife. He said his idea was rejected.

Robert Justiana, president of the homeowners association’s board, did not return a telephone call for comment.

Anne Kiekhofer, in an interview Friday, said she wants to make one thing clear: “This particular little community has welcomed me to everything social. I don’t have an ax to grind at all about that.”

Her only matter of contention is the boat.


sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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