Influx of commercial websites leads to lawsuits for ADA violations

American businesses have been inundated with lawsuits in recent years alleging that their websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and various state laws, including the California Unruh Act. The complainants claim that the websites do not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) created by the non-profit World Wide Web Consortium because visually impaired consumers cannot access the sites using a screen reader software. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many cases have been filed, they have increased by 75%, from just over 2,000 reported cases in 2018 to around 3,500 in 2020 – and the numbers are increasing regularly. The cases target all kinds of businesses across a wide range of industries.

The vast majority of cases have been filed in specific jurisdictions, particularly the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and various state courts in California, where the jurisprudence of these jurisdictions has made it difficult to determine. successful business defense, except in limited cases. conditions. Some courts have held that websites are considered “public accommodation” under Title III of the ADA, even when a business does not have a physical location that provides a “link” to the website. To complicate matters further, the US Congress has yet to pass legislation that would provide more clarity to businesses regarding official compliance standards. Likewise, the US Department of Justice has failed to promulgate regulations.

The cost of litigating these cases generally far exceeds the relatively modest amounts that plaintiff lawyers seek through expeditious settlements. In part, settlement amounts are often relatively small because the ADA only allows injunctive relief and the recovery of attorney fees for the winning party rather than monetary damages. However, some state laws, including the California Unruh Act, provide for statutory damages.

In addition, since complainants claim injunction in their complaints, they may seek, as part of the settlement, the website remediation to certain WCAG standards. External vendors provide auditing, remediation, and monitoring services that can be helpful in resolving a dispute. Depending on the complexity of the website, the number of unique pages, and the frequency of updates, remediation costs can multiply quickly. Complainant lawyers often also use software designed to identify very minor technical WCAG “compliance” issues following pre-resolution, although these issues have little impact on a visually impaired client’s ability to use the website.

These lawsuits are frustrating for businesses, of course. Many businesses may simply not be aware of ADA compliance requirements for their retail websites, leading them to be caught off guard by these lawsuits. The existence of these combinations presents an opportunity for a business to update its website to be more accommodating to visually impaired customers, while potentially reducing future exposure to these combinations.

Businesses should work with trusted law firms and advisers to reduce potential future exposure and lower settlement costs. Additionally, companies should identify reputable vendors who can document a company’s audit and remediation efforts and provide detailed compliance letters to increase bargaining power in the hope of reducing settlements in future lawsuits. .


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