Litigation besieging the accessibility of online services and website content continues to proliferate in the United States. We predict that the number of website accessibility lawsuits will triple over the next 24-36 months. Though the state of New York is leading the way (as seen in the graph below), all research indicates the writing is on the wall and these complaints are about to sweep through the United States and hit all states.
These lawsuits tend not to follow any trends. In many cases, it’s not a matter of the size of a business and what they offer, or just consumer-facing websites. So many different websites are being targeted today. For example, on January 15, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the website and mobile app of Domino’s Pizza must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make these online services fully accessible to the visually impaired.
While research indicates states like Texas, Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, Massachusetts, and California show lower activity for these complaints at the state level, additional litigation is about to heat up.
The California federal courts had a mere 10 website accessibility lawsuits filed in 2018. This might be hard for some to believe since California continues to lead the pack in the number of all ADA Title III lawsuit filings in federal court. However, it appears that plaintiffs filed their new cases in state court after a federal judge in the Central District of California dismissed a website accessibility lawsuit against Domino’s in 2017. The Ninth Circuit reversed that dismissal last month, making California federal court an attractive venue for plaintiffs once again. It is predicted that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling will cause the number of website accessibility lawsuits in California federal courts to increase dramatically in 2019 and beyond.
Although the state of California leads other states by far in ADA lawsuits, it may be because a California law sets a minimum dollar amount for damages of $4,000 plus attorney’s fees for each ADA violation, a minimum not imposed in most other states. The minimum, according to lawyers who defend such lawsuits, makes suing in California more lucrative. At the end of the day between legal fees and damages, it will run upwards of $25,000 per complaint.
According to an analysis by Seyfarth Shaw, an international law firm that specializes in defending such cases, nearly 5,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in federal court for alleged website violations in the first six months of 2018. The firm predicted that the number of lawsuits will climb to nearly 10,000 by the end of the year, a 30% increase from 2017.
Websites that seem to be at a higher risk are universities, restaurants, supermarkets and online services such as Hulu, though sites of all type and size have been targeted. It’s just a matter of time before we start seeing insurance websites being pulled into the fray.
The good that’s coming out of this legal phenomenon is that people with disabilities are being assisted and given access to online content and services in a way they previously haven’t. As business owners and CEOs strive to help those that are affected with hearing, vision, or physical capacities access their website content and services, we will start to see an improved, more accessible website experience.
What Can I Do to Protect My Business and Website?
Clearly budgeting to make your website ADA compliant so that it meets the standard of the current law is the best approach. You can hire a website developer which can be expensive and run anywhere from $5,000 and up. There are inexpensive plugins available in the marketplace, but be careful: they’re only designed to edit your website up to 20 percent compliance (WCAG 2.0) and you’ll still need to invest money each year to audit the site as changes to your content and pages occur. Also, it’s best to find a solution that will bring your website to a level A, AA standard when it comes to the ADA WCAG 2.0 law.
We are helping thousands of clients today by making their website conform to the appropriate guidelines necessary. The best part is we’re helping them become compliant in 48 hours or less. And our AI software tool does all the work each and every month, so they’ll never have to pay a website master, coder or bog down their IT department with hours of labor.
The DOJ still believes the ADA applies to websites, even if it is not acting to issue regulations. Though there are not regulations, the lack of regulations doesn’t release any business from the need to make their websites accessible. As the discussions around this topic increase in volume, litigation will continue to escalate.
Organizations have a little flexibility in deciding how to make their websites accessible, but in most cases working to meet WCAG 2.0/2.1 AA success criteria will be the best strategy.
Don’t assume that your current website is up to ADA standards. Learn more about our website compliance services and how we can improve your agency’s site, by calling (800) 736-9741 or by filling out our online form.
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