Digital accessibility lawsuits have been increasing steadily in the past few years. According to JD Supra, Plaintiffs filed 3,225 website accessibility lawsuits in federal court in 2022. That is a 12% increase over 2021. These lawsuits made up almost 40% of all ADA Title III lawsuits this year. Are your company’s digital resources and website compliant? If not, your company may be the next one to be hit with a costly lawsuit.
New York continues to be the leader in digital accessibility lawsuits, followed by California. According to JD Supra, plaintiffs filed 2,560 in New York federal courts over inaccessible websites. These lawsuits have mainly focused on businesses with a physical location. Some courts in California and Florida have ruled less favorably for plaintiffs who target online-only businesses.
Your website is generally considered an extension of, or a service offered by, your physical place of business. If your business is only online, you may still be subject to the ADA web accessibility standards. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers websites to be places of public accommodation, which are required to be accessible. This differentiation is an area that is currently being heavily debated and litigated.
The ADA is not the only law that applies to digital accessibility. California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, enacted in 1959, protects people with disabilities from discrimination by most business establishments. This law is similar to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but with one key difference. The ADA doesn’t allow for plaintiffs to claim damages, only attorney fees. California’s Unruh law allows plaintiffs to claim damages and carries a $4,000 penalty for violations, along with a $25,000 civil penalty. The ADA and the Unruh Act both cover physical places of business as well as websites.
There was a recent lawsuit that highlighted the dispute regarding how digital accessibility laws pertain to online-only businesses versus businesses with physical locations. In Martinez vs Cot’n Wash, Martinez claimed that their website violates the Unruh Act because it was not accessible to his assistive technology. He claimed that alt text was missing, form labels were incorrectly created, and other information was incorrectly presented. Cot’n Wash argued that the Unruh Act did not apply because Martinez had no evidence the company intended to discriminate against people with disabilities, which is a required factor. They also argued that the ADA did not apply to this case because they have no physical location. The court sided with Cot’n Wash on both points. Additionally, the California Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal case. This left the precedent set by the previous court in place. This case is not the end-all for the debate surrounding online-only business, but newer lawsuits seem to be following this trend.
The Department of Justice is also committed to enforcing digital accessibility. That includes making websites and everything on them accessible, including any uploaded resources. The only way to make sure your company avoids any digital accessibility lawsuits is to ensure your website is compliant with laws at both the state and federal level. Need a fast and easy way to make your website and its contents accessible to everyone? Contact us! We offer website reviews and remediation of PDF, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.