As pandemic restrictions have driven consumers to shop online more than ever before, we have seen a significant uptick in lawsuits filed by disabled (typically blind) plaintiffs against owners of e-commerce websites; claiming the websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While many of these suits do have merit under the current interpretation of the law, make no mistake, these lawsuits are filed by plaintiffs for the sole purpose of scoring quick four to five figure settlements.
Title III of the ADA states that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” Although there is no mention of websites in the Act, “public accommodation” has largely been interpreted, particularly in New York, to include websites and mobile apps. As such, the practical implication of the ADA requires that commercial websites be navigable by all users, including the visually impaired.
The plaintiffs who file these cases are typically serial filers – some with hundreds of lawsuits over the span of just a couple of years. These plaintiffs can make decent money from these matters, and the attorneys are motivated to take the cases on a contingency basis because the ADA allows for the award of attorneys’ fees. Thus, quick settlements are almost guaranteed since it is usually less expensive for the defendant to settle than to fight the case in court.
Given the exponential increase in the number of cases being filed out of New York, Georgia, Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, it is highly recommended that website owners take immediate action to become ADA compliant (such as making websites compatible with screen-reading software). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can be found here. Making your website ADA compliant is of course the right thing to do in general, and could even result in increased revenues for your company.
If you have been served with an ADA lawsuit, immediately contact an attorney (as you will likely have only 21 days to respond to the suit) and get your site compliant prior to engaging in settlement discussions.