WASHINGTON (AP) – Regal Entertainment Group, the nation’s largest movie theater chain, has agreed to alter nearly 1,000 stadium-style auditoriums so people in wheelchairs have better views, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

In addition, all new Regal theaters will be designed with wheelchair seating in the middle or farther back. The terms are part of a settlement of a 4½-year-old lawsuit alleging the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to give the disabled seating comparable to the general public.

Stadium-riser seating gives unobstructed views to most everyone in the theater. Critics, however, complain that those in wheelchairs are often left to crane their necks awkwardly from the less-desirable front rows.

“Opening everyday activities like a night at a movie theater to persons with disabilities is a core goal” of the landmark disabilities law, Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta said.

Regal, based in Knoxville, Tenn., operates 6,273 auditoriums in 40 states under the Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres and Edwards Theatres banners. About 3,500 have stadium-style seating.

The suit, filed against Hoyt Cinemas Corp. in December 2000, was one of several against movie chains begun by the Justice Department during the Clinton administration. Regal acquired most Hoyts theaters last year.

The company estimates it will spent $15 million to make changes, which must be done within five years.

Regal Senior Vice President Randy Smith said the company was pleased “to resolve all of our outstanding ADA claims with the government.”

The Supreme Court last year left undisturbed lower court rulings against Regal and the Cinemark USA chain. Cinemark resolved its suit in November, agreeing to modifications in 81 theaters.

A suit against National Amusements Inc. is scheduled for trial in November.

A dozen different courts have dealt with suits over theater seating.

The National Association of Theatre Owners complained to the Supreme Court that the Justice Department “chose to sit on its hands while thousands of stadium-style movie theater auditoria were constructed based upon the reasonable and universal understanding among design professionals” that wheelchair patrons only had to be given an unobstructed view.

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