ADA Website Lawsuits – A Growth Industry During Covid-19?

Expect An Explosive Increase In The Number ADA Website Lawsuits In 2020

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law.  Widely hailed by many as landmark civil rights legislation, the ADA began to break down societal barriers to inclusion that previously had segregated and excluded disabled members of our communities.  Finally, this legislation would begin to allow the disabled to gain access to the services the non-disabled take for granted, under penalty of law.

“Signs” of Progress

Upon passage of the ADA, we began to see “signs” of progress popping up around the country.  At first, we began to notice the now familiar blue and white handicapped parking signs and parking spaces designated as “handicapped parking”.  Soon after, we began to see the blue and white handicapped logo painted on the pavement in those designated parking spaces. As our culture transformed to become more inclusive to people with disabilities, we saw accommodations for people with disabilities continued to evolve. 

“Ramping” Up The Effort

As time went by, more actions were taken to make accessibility to the disabled available in public places.  We began to see wheelchair ramps added to restaurants, stores and other public accommodations made including handicapped designated restrooms, handrails, and special dropoff areas for assisting persons with disabilities to have easy access to public services without the need to traverse a long distance to enter a building.

ADA in the Workplace

ADA also prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of workers’ disabilities.  Under ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities.  Examples of these accommodations include modifying the desk height and equipment in their workspace, installing telecommunications technology for the deaf and installing computer screen magnifiers for the sight impaired.  

Providing accommodations that allow for accessibility has positively impacted the daily lives of the disabled.  The Americans with Disabilities Act has opened up opportunities for the disabled to more fully participate in the daily activities and experiences that people without disabilities take for granted.

Expanding the Definition of “Public Accommodation”

ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of public accommodations.  Public Accommodations are considered to be businesses, including private entities that are open to the public or that provide goods or services to the public.  Places of public accommodation generally speaking include restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreational facilities, doctor’s offices, etc.  There are some limited exceptions, but these places of public accommodation must comply with the ADA.

Over the past several years, the courts have ruled on arguments that places of accommodation include the websites that businesses and organizations publish online for the benefit of their customers and prospects.  In a landmark ruling, the US 9th Circuit Court found in favor of a plaintiff who filed suit against Domino’s Pizza (Domino’s Pizza v. Robles) and successfully argued that because Domino’s website was inaccessible to him due to his disability, this unlawfully impeded his access to Domino’s goods (custom-made pizzas).
The ruling was appealed to the US Supreme Court, who declined to take up the case in October, 2019.  This made the 9th Circuit ruling the law, making ADA Compliant websites required under the law. 

By the Numbers

Even before the Supreme Court declined to hear the case against Domino’s Pizza, ADA Compliant website lawsuits were dramatically increasing in number.  A quick look at the numbers reveals an alarming trend in the number of cases filed:

ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits Filed in Federal Court (2016-2019)

2016262
2017814
20182314
20192235*

* The 2019 total was affected slightly while the Plaintiff’s attorneys waited for the Supreme Court to decide not to hear Domino’s case.

All industries are targets.  The law doesn’t discriminate.  Nevertheless, there are certain industries that have experienced more ADA Compliant Website lawsuits than others.  Here is a listing of the top industries targeted from 2017-2019, the number of lawsuits filed, and some firms within those industries:

Industry# SuitsNotable Companies Sued
Retail1347Amazon.com, Xerox, Apple, H&M, Coach, Louis Vuitton
Food Service202Starbucks, Taco Bell, Domino’s Pizza
Entertainment194Béyonce Knowles, Fox Network, Hulu
Travel/Hospitality157AirBnB, Choice Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Marriott Hotels
Real Estate/Property49Compass, Miller-Valentine

Since 2017, more than 67% of the top 500 retailers have been sued in Federal Court.  60% of the top 100 restaurant chains have been sued. This trend will continue and accelerate as we move further into 2020.  In 2019, the number of lawsuits being filed were equivalent to 1 lawsuit filed per hour.  

New York, Florida and California are the leading states for ADA Compliant Website filings, but at last review, 14 states had filings in Federal Court.  Prior to the US Supreme Court deciding not to hear Domino’s case, there was a brief lull in filings. Plaintiff’s attorneys waited for the outcome ahead of filing, knowing that the Supreme Court might hear the case and rule against the Guillermo Robles, the Plaintiff.  Once the Supreme Court decided against hearing the case, the number of filings took off like a rocket.

ADA Compliant Websites are the law of the land – what happens now?

Expect to hear a lot about ADA Compliant Website lawsuits.  Especially directed at small businesses.  

Major corporations have seen their peers become targets and many have responded by taking proactive measures to bring their websites into compliance, having learned from their corporate cousins.  For small businesses, the level of awareness is not yet widespread and they face the challenge of “how do I know what I don’t know?” Most do not know that this law is in place and that ADA website accessibility is required.  For many, the first time they realize this is the law is when they are served with notice they are being sued. The effect can be devastating.

At Alena Solutions, we are spreading the word as quickly as possible in order to stop these lawsuits in their tracks.  We stress that the cost to become ADA Website compliant is far less than the cost to defend or settle an ADA lawsuit.

ADA Website Compliance during (and after) Covid-19

Emergencies like hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and earthquakes can bring people together as a nation and the outpouring of support during these times is inspirational and unifying.  Helping our friends and neighbors during times of trouble has a healing effect on our psyche and makes us all feel a sense of community.

A crisis can also bring out the worst in people as well.  

By now we’ve all heard stories about hoarding toilet paper or the guy who bought 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to sell at an outrageous price (he was stopped), or phony websites hawking coronavirus “cures”.  The people doing this are despicable people and are rightly criticized for being opportunistic and preying on the fears of the public.

During the Covid-19 crisis, we anticipate that stories will be told about sleazy attorneys filing suit against small to mid-size businesses for non-ADA Compliant websites.  With the law on their side, there is a strong likelihood that some attorneys will step up their efforts to file ADA lawsuits as a nuisance, simply looking for a quick settlement.  Don’t let this happen to you.  

At Alena Solutions, we can help businesses large and small protect themselves against these predatory lawsuits.  Don’t misunderstand me, accessibility mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and equal opportunity to conduct business for everyone, particularly the disabled, makes us a better society.  There is no doubt about that.

Call to Action

If your website (or mobile app) is not ADA Compliant, Alena Solutions can help.  A short conversation is all we need to get started.  

For most companies, the cost to make their website ADA compliant is $1,500, or less than the cost of many consumer’s monthly cable bill for a year.  Annual renewals are less than $500. We ensure that your website is always in compliance.

We offer flexible payment options and the satisfaction of knowing the your business gains the following benefits:

  • Your business  won’t be a victim of a costly ADA Compliant website “nuisance” lawsuit
  • Your website will increase SEO traffic, exposing you to more potential customers
  • Customers will know that you are open for business for everyone, particularly the disabled

Finally…

All of us at Alena Solutions hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe as we all navigate the Covid-19 virus together.  We offer our support to you in every possible way.   
Let’s chat and support each other as you want or need to – we are here!

Be strong and stay healthy and safe. 

About the author

Bob Hazlett

Bob is an experienced VP Of Business Development with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. Skilled in Business Planning, Sales, Professional Services, and Management

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