How technology has changed ADA lawsuits

By February 20, 2019

Michael Landen (1)Each week, large companies across the country often find themselves facing lawsuits for alleged violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), particularly when it comes to wheelchair ramps and accessible parking. However, companies need to be aware that they could soon become the target for a new type lawsuit under the ADA…claims that their website is not compliant with the law by being inaccessible to the visually impaired.

ADA litigation related to website accessibility has surged in recent years. In the first six months of last year alone 1,053 such lawsuits were filed nationwide and increase from 814 cases in all of 2017.

The ADA protects the rights of the physically impaired to receive services at the same level and quality as everyone else. Given that many online services can be treated as “public accommodations,” entities that provide extra services on their website are the largest targets for these claims. Businesses in the retail and hospitality industries are particularly vulnerable for becoming a target for this type of lawsuit. As such, businesses should make sure that their websites conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 standards and minimalize impaired people’s limitations to having full access to the site.

It is important for all businesses to consider how to reduce their potential liability. While complying with the WCAG 2.1 is not a complete shield against ADA lawsuits, it should be every business’s first step in reducing its liability exposure.

As we begin the new year, Florida’s Eleventh Circuit is expected to rule on a decision that may open the floodgates for lawsuits over website accessibility. Last October, the federal appeals court heard arguments in Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. appeal of a June 2017. The decision concluded that blind plaintiff Juan Carlos Gil has alleged the incompatibility of Winn-Dixie’s website with standard screen reader software, thus denying him the full and equal access of what the company offers to sighted customers.

Businesses need to be constantly aware that ADA-related litigation is continually expanding into digital territory as technology becomes more necessary in our day-to-day lives. Being proactive and taking steps to limit exposure could prevent you from becoming the latest target for this kind of lawsuit.