Lawsuits & Legal
Litigation Support Package
Our tool remediates your site to make it accessible and compliant. With this being said, a claim can be made by anyone anywhere for any reason. The accessibility statement and monthly compliance audits should be enough to stop any claim in its track, but in the rare case that they do not, we will provide you with our Litigation Support Package.
Our Litigation Support Package includes the following:
1. Documentation and testing from our R&D team includes line-by-line assessment and responses to every accessibility complaint
2. Suggested and legally-vetted responses for all case scenarios
3. Two different 3rd party audits performed by our team
4. Ongoing support from our team
The Industries Most Impacted by Web Accessibility Lawsuits
The need to have an accessible website should be your top priority today. The main factor driving this need has been the increase in web accessibility lawsuits.
In what legal experts have called a litigation tsunami, it’s mostly small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that have been hit with thousands of lawsuits and demand letters relating to website accessibility over the past 2 years. This increase in cases has triggered an alarm for SMBs and even prompted the National Retail Federation to issue a warning to businesses urging them to start taking web accessibility seriously.
Where’s the (Legal) Action?
Every industry has to comply with web accessibility regulations, yet not all fields have been affected equally. Here are some trends that we are currently seeing in major sectors:
With the global boom in eCommerce, it should come as no surprise that accessibility complaints against platforms that support these businesses have also risen over the past year. From supermarkets to fashion brands, everyone can be a target.
An important issue is highlighted by the growing number of eCommerce lawsuits is: does a website in and of itself fall under standard accessibility regulations?
Many accessibility laws, like the ADA for instance, were created before the internet was as popular as it is today. If a website is supporting a physical business, it’s easy for a plaintiff to argue that the online platform is an extension of that shop. But what about a business that consists only of an online platform? The Ecommerce domain, fraught with stand-alone sites with no connection to a brick-and-mortar business, has been the testing ground for this question.
While courts have been far from unanimous, many federal level rulings in the US have upheld the notion that a website-only enterprise is still subject to accessibility laws.
Consider the lawsuit brought against the California-based Scribd, a digital library that operates reading subscriptions. Scribd maintains no physical service centers, yet a Vermont court upheld the claim that the company’s site was subject to compliance with the ADA.
Restaurants and the Food Industry
Food services have been one of the industries to cash in on the digitization trend in recent years. Allowing customers to scout out locations, peruse menus, and make orders online has allowed restaurants to expand their business exponentially.
The move to the web has also exposed the field to accessibility claims.
Many big names in the restaurant industry have made the list of lawsuits including Dunkin’ Donuts and Domino’s Pizza, whose case recently rose to the Supreme Court.
From these reports, it’s easy to get the impression that only big food chains are getting hit. But like all areas of accessibility litigation, the headlines can be misleading. It’s not only the household names that are getting served. On the contrary, it’s mostly the little guys being caught up in the lawsuit wave.
The litigation trend against restaurants has brought many industry leaders to highlight the threat and urge businesses to take steps toward compliance.
In the Spring of 2019, Juan Carlos Gil, a legally blind Florida resident, filed lawsuits against dozens of AutoNation Inc. dealerships throughout the state of Florida.
In his complaint, Gil claimed the websites of the dealerships were incompatible with his screen reader which he used to navigate online content.
According to experts in the automotive industry, AutoNation is not alone. Dealerships all over the United States are being swept up in the accessibility litigation trend. The focus on car dealerships for plaintiffs has also drawn the attention of legal experts, many of whom have highlighted the high risk for the field.
The finance industry was one of the first to be hit by accessibility compliance demands on a large scale.
One of the earliest cases involved finance giant Bank of America back in the year 2000. The bank agreed to improve its site’s user experience for blind people as part of a settlement that also included a commitment to installing talking ATMs. Other banks that made the list of lawsuit defendants include Fleet Bank, Washington Mutual, Sovereign Bank, First Union, Bank One, and HSBC.
But the big names in the world of banking aren’t the only ones being sued. As legal experts have noted, targets have been as diverse as they are numerous. It’s no wonder that as early as 2016, industry leaders have been warning banks of all sizes to start taking real steps toward web accessibility compliance.
The risk of legal liability is well known in the healthcare industry, mostly due to privacy and malpractice issues that are part and parcel of the industry.
In recent years, however, accessibility compliance has also become a major incentive for lawsuits directed at the industry. This should come as no surprise. Many people with disabilities are coping with medical conditions that prompt them to seek healthcare providers. The sites of providers are most likely to be visited by people with disabilities, making them redundant if they are inaccessible.
A notable example of a healthcare accessibility suit includes the case of Wellpoint, a health insurance company. Wellpoint was served a lawsuit by two visually impaired people, who claimed that most of the features on the Wellpoint site were inaccessible to people with vision impairments. The case eventually reached a settlement and Wellpoint committed to reconfiguring its website.
In another case, Tenet Healthcare, which operates 3 hospitals in Florida, was the subject of a class-action suit in which plaintiffs alleged that the hospitals’ websites were not compatible with screen readers.
The education industry has been hit hard: a whopping fifty universities from across the US were targeted in a single lawsuit, with the plaintiff alleging that the institutions’ sites were inaccessible.
What is important to know about schools’ obligations for accessibility is that they tend to be amongst the most liable entities. As most schools are public institutions, they’re subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires all public facilities and services to be accessible. In addition, since most schools receive some form of government funding, they are also required to keep the standards of the stricter Rehabilitation Act, a law that pertains to government institutions.
The issue of accessibility in education was made famous with several high profile cases such as the MIT- Harvard lawsuit filed in 2015. The plaintiff in that case called out the universities’ online education platforms for failing to cater to deaf individuals. Nearly 4 years later, the case reached at least a partial settlement, with Harvard agreeing to make changes to its site.
The trend of lawsuits against educational institutions continued to rise throughout 2019. Over the years, targets in these suits have ranged from universities to public school districts.
High Profile Cases are Making Headlines
Winn-Dixie was the first such lawsuit to be taken to trial. In that case, according to Forbes.com, a federal judge determined the grocery store failed to make its website accessible to people with significant visual impairment. As a result, the company allocated $250,000 to update their site. This was a landmark win for this particular plaintiff, who has filed nearly 70 other known lawsuits claiming business websites failed to comply with American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
In a similar action, according to Fortune.com, a blind woman initiated a class action suit against Beyonce.com, claiming the performer’s site and e-store are inaccessible to people with vision impairment.
Perhaps the most prominent case – and far-reaching for businesses of all sizes – has been the lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza. In that case, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ADA does indeed apply to provide access to websites and apps as well as brick-and-mortar locations. According to an article in the LA Times, this led to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce voicing concerns about the potential for a “tsunami of litigation” and judges “imposing a nationwide website-accessibility mandate.”
Small Businesses are Also Being Targeted for Web Accessibility Lawsuits
It’s not just big corporations being targeted. Colorado Bag & Baggage was forced to pay a plaintiff $4,000 in damages plus up to $100,000 in the plaintiff’s legal fees. Whisper Restaurant and Lounge in Los Angeles were also required to pay a plaintiff $4,000, after the court rejected their assertion that the website is not a “place of public accommodation,” and therefore should not fall under ADA regulations.
Those are just some of the thousands of businesses that have been taken to court or paid financial settlements in order to avoid lawsuits.
Mounting legal precedent led Forbes.com to write, “times are changing and online businesses have a greater responsibility than ever to prioritize their website accessibility. When companies essentially deny equal access because their website is incompatible with a screen reader – or has other accessibility issues, the companies also become vulnerable to lawsuits.”