We have reported previously on the emerging trends in litigation over website accessibility. Briefly, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires accessibility for disabled persons to places of public accommodation. Increasingly, disabled persons are pursuing litigation or threats of litigation, arguing that a company’s website which provides access to goods and services must be accessible under the ADA. The law remains somewhat unsettled. Federal courts have reached varying conclusions on the question of whether websites are places of public accommodation and, if they are, what steps are required to make them accessible under the ADA. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) takes the position that websites are places of public accommodation. DOJ has promised to issue guidance on specific steps needed to comply. Although DOJ’s ADA compliance guidelines were initially expected in April 2016, DOJ has pushed the expected ADA compliance guideline timeframe to 2018.
Despite the fact that there is little clear guidance on exactly how to comply, lawsuits about website accessibility are becoming more common. A state court in California recently ruled in favor of a sight-impaired plaintiff who sued a luggage retailer. The plaintiff argued that the company’s website, which offers products for sale online, is not accessible to blind individuals. The suit alleged violations of the ADA and California civil rights law. The case is notable for two important reasons. First, the judge was so persuaded by the plaintiff’s arguments that he ruled in his favor at the summary judgment stage, meaning there was never even a trial. The judge concluded based on written motions that there was sufficient evidence that the company’s website is a place of accommodation and it was not accessible for disabled persons. The judge issued an injunction ordering the company to make their website accessible. The judge also awarded the plaintiff $4,000 in damages under the state law claim. However, that was not the most significant economic hit. The company will also be required to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, which reports estimate will be over $100,000.
There is no question that ADA website accessibility is an emerging risk point for any company that offers goods and services to consumers online. If you are interested in learning more, Porter Wright is conducting a seminar covering these issues on Wednesday, April 6th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Porter Wright attorneys will discuss the legal issues and representatives from website design company, Dynamit, will discuss what it takes to make a consumer facing website ADA compliant. If you are interested, click here for more details.