CHICAGO — Lawsuits claiming business websites are inaccessible to people with disabilities have spiked nationwide in the last two years, surging from at least 57 in 2015 to at least 432 in 2017, according to a count tabulated by the Chicago-based law firm of Seyfarth Shaw.
Such lawsuits typically argue that websites, like all other public places, are supposed be accessible to everyone under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which stipulates that everyone must have equal access to “all public and private places that are open to the general public.”
Two New York judges recently found that websites are subject to the ADA and that “courts don’t need agency regulations setting a standard for website accessibility to decide whether a website violates the ADA,” according to a report by Seyfarth Law.
Kristina Launey, an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw's Sacramento, Calif., office, told the Cook County Record that these lawsuits are not limited to any one area of country.
“We have seen lawsuits popping up in new states and courts,” she said. “But since a company with a website can generally be sued anywhere, where the law firm is located has seemed to drive the venue for the lawsuit more than any other factor.”
Launey said some states have their own disability laws, but they can vary.
“Some states and even municipalities have their own disability access laws - like California and New York - which had traditionally driven higher numbers of ADA Title III cases in those states,” she said. “But with Florida currently leading the pack by a significant number on website accessibility lawsuits, where the complaints generally allege only violations of Title III of the ADA, the ability to add state law claims has not been as big a factor.”
In light of the spike in these cases, Launey recommends that companies review their websites and hire outside counsel and consultants.
Businesses seeking to mitigate risk of a lawsuit, or at least put themselves in the best position possible to defend against a lawsuit, she said, should:
Evaluate their websites - potentially using a reputable digital accessibility consultant and outside counsel, to preserve privilege - to determine the state of the websites’ accessibility;
Put in place a plan to bring the website into substantial conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA;
Ensure they provide other means of communicating with customers with disabilities;
Prepare and post an accessibility information webpage; and
Put "other internal accessibility policies, procedures, specialized staff and training in place," she said.