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In 2022, plaintiffs filed a record number of website accessibility lawsuits against companies in the federal court system—3,225 in total. To put that number into perspective, five years ago, only 814 such cases were filed. Website accessibility lawsuits now account for 37% of all lawsuits related to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Site accessibility or abuse of the legal process?
It is worth noting that despite the prevalence of these lawsuits, they are filed by a limited number of plaintiffs, as some individuals filed hundreds of lawsuits sequentially. Is it about accessibility, inclusivity, and respect for everyone? Or is it a misuse of due process by plaintiffs and a very limited number of lawyers who specialize in these cases, using typical “cut and paste” pleadings?
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits public accommodations from discriminating against an individual on the basis of disability and requires reasonable modifications to that end.
For example, a basic Google search for “mattress” generated options at Amazon, Walmart, Casper, Target, Mattress Firm, Ashley’s, and other nationally known retailers. By narrowing the field by location, other local online retailers popped up, but it certainly wasn’t a small-town Texas company defending a suit brought by a low-sighted plaintiff.
Lawmakers at the state and federal levels have considered legislation limiting lawsuits related to website access, but have failed to enact it. The aims of the Americans with Disabilities Act are certainly noble, but have they been hijacked by people who had no legitimate intent to take advantage of the services or facilities offered on or on the accompanying websites? Transfer of Fee Provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act encourage settlements simply by threatening defendants with an obligation to pay plaintiffs’ legal fees.
“Testers” in claims to access websites
Now, at long last, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on the question of whether the “tester” has competence to sue a hotel he had no intention of staying at on the grounds that he failed to do so. Provide adequate information on accessibility for persons with disabilities. The district court found that the plaintiff, who had filed over 600 such claims, lacked eligibility to sue because she did not intend to book a room at the defendant’s inn on the coast of Maine. However, 1street The Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this, holding that the lack of accessibility information alone was enforceable on the grounds of “significant tort of catastrophic injury.” Three other circuits refused that the testers stand on the same pattern of facts involving the same plaintiff, which is the second circuit, 5y circle and 10y circuit while 11y The Chamber has ruled to the contrary.
Impact on small businesses
One can reasonably ask if there are real consequences arising from any technical shortcomings of the website which could not be remedied by a simple phone call to the establishment. In addition, allegations of technical violations of architectural or website accessibility standards do not, by themselves, prove that the plaintiffs were effectively prevented from enjoying those companies’ services.
This is even more egregious when plaintiffs target small companies that lack the financial resources to forcefully file such claims, resulting in swift settlement of the overwhelming number of them.
Although the business community certainly hopes that the Supreme Court will issue a ruling that will set a high standard of pleading, in the meantime it must continue to defend claims of limited merit or factual harm.
How can we help?
If your business is the beneficiary of an accessibility litigation, our attorneys have represented defendants in website, physical accommodation, and litigation through effective communications as well as advice on best practices and risk mitigation.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject. It is advised to take the advice of specialists in such circumstances.
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