Understanding the Current Landscape of ADA Compliance Lawsuits
16 November 2021
ADA compliance

Understanding the Current Landscape of ADA Compliance Lawsuits

When it comes to business, legal aspects occupy immense importance. However, the number of civil lawsuits filed against companies for violating the ADA has skyrocketed in recent years. 

These lawsuits have become a major source of litigation and cost to employees and employers alike. With this, business owners should pay emphasis on legal matters to avoid lawsuits.

Owing to the complexities and intricate nature of laws, business owners remain unable to read between the lines and end up facing lawsuits.

The most recent statistics indicate that over 80% of all ADA violations occur in just ten California and New York counties. It makes the ADA the most heavily litigated federal disability law in the country.

Additionally, an interesting twist came into the limelight when accessibility lawsuits related to inaccessible websites and other digital assets began to surface.

In today’s post, we’ll discuss the current state of website accessibility and ADA lawsuits. Continue reading to learn more about the current landscape of ADA compliance lawsuits!

If you want to know more about what are ADA-compliant websites, visit our guide below. 

ADA guide banner

History of Website Accessibility and the Laws

In 1990, President Bush signed ADA to prohibit discrimination against differently-abled people. It’s a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability in employment, public accommodations, and public services.

In 1991, the Department of Justice issued rules for Title II and Title III.

Title II is about government states and agencies and prohibits them from discriminating against differently-abled people.

Its goal is to protect differently-abled individuals from discrimination in state and local governments’ programs, services, and activities. Additionally, what we know now as Section 508 falls under Title II.

On the other hand, Title III prohibits discrimination at places defined as a public accommodation. These are places generally open to the public and have 12 categories, including schools, recreation, offices, and medical buildings.

In terms of accessibility, your website and other digital assets fall under Title III. However, there are no formal laws that enforce website accessibility.

Businesses generally adhere to WCAG guidelines and other guidelines to meet ADA compliance for websites to ensure website accessibility. But, there’s no specific law to monitor their practical implications because Title III doesn’t explicitly declare websites as a public accommodation.

Landmark ADA Compliance Lawsuits 

Landmark Accessibility Lawsuits

Web accessibility litigation is a growing problem that continuously grows through the years. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice had set a record for ADA Title III lawsuits, filing 10,982 cases.

Additionally, both small and big companies are subject to ADA compliance lawsuits.

Domino’s Pizza

One of the most popular ADA compliance lawsuits is Domino’s Pizza v. Guillermo Robles. 

Guillermo Robles initially brought the case. Robles is a blind man who sued Domino’s pizza after ordering through the pizza giant’s website and mobile app.

Robles’ attorneys emphasized that the ADA requires businesses with physical locations to make their websites and other online platforms accessible to differently-abled people.

Dominos sought to have the case dismissed, which was initially awarded by the district court that first heard the case. However, Robles filed for an appeal, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in his favor.

The pizza giant appealed to the US Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the company’s appeal, so Domino’s Pizza will have to continue fighting this case in court.

Gill v. Winn-Dixie

Another popular website accessibility case is Gill v. Winn-Dixie. It’s the first accessibility case that went to trial and had a decision rendered on the merits.

The plaintiff, who is legally blind, claims that the content of the Winn-Dixie website was inaccessible to him.

The trial was held in the US District Court Southern District of Florida, where it ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

Additionally, the court found that there were accessibility issues in the website. As such, Winn-Dixie violated the ADA. 

However, Gill v. Winn-Dixie an important case because the eleventh circuit reversed the district court decision. 

The 11th circuit found that Winn-Dixie didn’t violate the ADA because websites aren’t places of public accommodation. Moreover, they also found that the plaintiff wasn’t denied access to any goods or services that Winn-Dixie’s physical location offers.

ADA compliance lawsuits are filed across different verticals, sizes, and industries. Aside from Domino’s case and Gill v. Winn-Dixie, there are also website accessibility complaints against Beyonce and Domino’s.

ADA Compliance Lawsuits Statistics and Trends at a Glance

Accessibility lawsuits began to surface in 2013, where plaintiffs filed 2722 cases.

In recent years, this number has constantly grown, with 10,982 lawsuits in 2020. The trend in lawsuits filed in federal courts and state courts shows an increase in filing such lawsuits.

While state court data is unreliable due to constraints, all signs point to a drastic increase in state court filings. New York and California have been the two states with the highest state court filings in recent years. 

Additionally,  lawsuits have decreased by only 1% from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, plaintiffs filed 11,053 ADA compliance lawsuits, while there were 10,982 lawsuits in 2020.

Although this decreases cases, it’s still a large number of lawsuits since the country was gripped by a pandemic.

Courts have also seen case declines in April and May with 572 and 538 cases, respectively. However, these numbers quickly increased to 857 filings in June.

Additionally, these numbers include all Title III lawsuits filed on all grounds, including physical facilities, service animals, and websites. They also don’t include disability access lawsuits because they’re more difficult to track.

With these numbers, ADA compliance lawsuits are still steadily increasing in 2021. In January 2021, plaintiffs filed 1,108 cases – the most cases filed in a single month.

With these statistics, ADA compliance lawsuits have nowhere to go but up.

Accessibility Lawsuits in Federal Court and State Court

Both federal and state courts are showing an increase in lawsuits. In the U.S. federal court, most lawsuits are filed over ADA Title III claims.

On the other hand, lawsuits in state courts are filed under state laws such as The Unruh Act in California.

California and New York topped the charts in 2020, with 5869 and 2238 filings, respectively. Additionally, California also broke its lawsuit records by 22%.

Like we’ve mentioned, the data is unreliable and incomplete for lawsuits filed in state courts. However, these numbers say a lot, especially in terms of website accessibility.

The DOJ also considers web accessibility as a vital part of ADA compliance. That said, businesses must make it a priority.

The Mechanism of Filing a Lawsuit Related to Inaccessible Websites

Accessibility checker

Like we’ve said, the number of ADA compliance lawsuits related to website accessibility is continuously increasing. The law firms filing them also increase with these numbers, with no signs of slowing down.

But what exactly happens when you get sued?

1) The demand letter arrives.

The first step of an ADA compliance lawsuit is the demand letter. However, some of these demand letters contain the same lawsuit with claims made from one lawsuit to the next.

That said, it’s important you review the claims in the letter and determine if they’re relevant to your digital assets.

2) Look for legal counsel.

Of course, you need a lawyer for your case. While it can get expensive, finding one with expertise in internet accessibility law and equal rights is the way to go.

With your lawyer, you build a case and disprove the claims being charged against you. The goal here is to create a solid defense that your website is accessible.

3) Go to trial.

Once your defence is ready, you’ll likely go to trial. Keep in mind that penalties apply for missing a trial, ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.

4) Make the case.

Although you’re correct and your site is accessible, you’ll need an expert to attest to this fact. If you’re a web developer, then you won’t have to hire an expert.

However, you have to hire an unbiased technical expert to witness your case if you aren’t. They must have the technical knowledge to provide detailed testimony on the technical aspects of your site.

5) It isn’t over yet.

If your site is proven to be compliant, you technically win the case. However, the plaintiff can still file an appeal to higher courts.

If your site is found to be noncompliant, then prepare for things to be even more expensive. You will be expected to pay a fine at the judge’s discretion.

Now, here’s something to keep in mind: some lawyers exploit the law and directly file the lawsuit. There’s also something called ADA lawsuit abuse.

ADA lawsuit abuse occurs when an individual files ADA compliance lawsuits without suffering real injuries.

It usually involves a person visiting several business establishments to identify ADA violations, like lack of wheelchair ramps. Then, the individual will proceed to sue the business for injuries.

Avoiding Lawsuits

As mentioned earlier, lawsuits can get expensive quickly. With this, you want to prevent getting sued as much as you can.

This is how you can do that.

  • Understand laws, rules, and regulations.

Like we’ve mentioned, there are no formal laws on website accessibility. Thus, understanding accessibility guidelines like the WCAG will help you avoid ADA compliance lawsuits.

  • Research about laws in your particular state, city, or country.

The first step to achieving ADA compliance lawsuits is through knowing what laws apply to you. With this, you must research specific laws enforced in your state or country.

  • Do an audit.

Auditing your site is a crucial step to attaining website accessibility. It helps you identify possible accessibility issues and ways to fix them.

  • Publish an accessibility statement on the website.

If you don’t have an accessibility statement, generate one and post it on your site. Also, make sure that the page itself is accessible.

  • Design and develop for accessibility.

If you plan to comply with the ADA, one of the most important steps is an inclusive website design. Thus, your website should have content optimized for differently-abled people.

  • Keep a constant check and keep updating.

With the changing digital landscape, the needs of differently-abled people change too. That said, you must keep yourself up-to-date with laws and regulations. 

Additionally, you can also use tools like AudioEye and UserWay to make maintaining an ADA-compliant website easier.

Summary

Because technology is so pervasive, there’s a need to make it accessible so that everyone can make the most out of it.

As a business, you can also take it as your social responsibility to promote inclusivity by making your website accessible.

Even if there is no law, you should consider accessibility as an important aspect and make every effort to ensure it.

Start by conducting an audit to understand where your website lies on the scale of accessibility, and then make an effort to make your website accessible.

Begin your website auditing for accessibility at Accessibility Checker 

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