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Helping Clients Navigate ADA Compliance &

The “Murky Underworld” of ADA Website Lawsuits


Few things are more intimidating to a business owner, especially a small business with relatively limited resources, than being served with a lawsuit claiming their website is not compliantly accessible and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or similar state laws (most commonly the Unruh Civil Rights Act in California and similar accessibility law in New York). While the passage of the ADA in 1990 was aimed at ensuring that those with disabilities can be equal members of society, the way the law was drafted has resulted in unintended consequences where businesses not meant to be within the scope of the law, mainly stand-alone e-commerce websites, are subjected to “a contagion of lawsuits.” After being served with an ADA lawsuit, business owners learn that there is a seemingly murky underworld of lawyers and “serial plaintiffs” who have taken advantage of a law that had good intentions aimed at helping the significant numbers of disabled people and instead created a thriving “cottage industry” at the expense of small business owners who are often struggling to keep their businesses afloat. 

ADA Lawsuits Alleging Website Non-Compliance Are Proliferating

Unfortunately, the number of ADA lawsuits alleging website non-compliance due to lack of accessibility is increasing exponentially. According to a recent report, while there were only 117 lawsuits filed in 2017 based on ADA website accessibility issues, in 2023, 4,334 such lawsuits were filed. Further, ADA Title III lawsuits, including those not in the website context, numbered over 8,000 – with California and New York in the lead. It is no wonder that more and more business owners find themselves panicking as they learn they are the defendants in an opaque lawsuit. After all, there are no clear rules as to what constitutes an accessible website, in particular, since the World Wide Web Consortium and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are not legal standards per se. While the Department of Justice has put out guidance on various aspects of the ADA in the context of website compliance, there is much to be desired, including questions about how different versions of a website aimed at ensuring accessibility are deemed to be “segregation.” Sure, there are a variety of best practices, but many of these are arbitrary. Moreover, courts disagree on whether an online business with no physical presence is a “place of public accommodation” subject to the ADA. As if that is not enough, some of these “serial plaintiffs” withdraw their lawsuits at the last minute so as not to get an unfavorable outcome that will put the “shakedown” of businesses based on the ADA to an end, such as was believed to be the case in a similar area of “ADA tester” cases that the Supreme Court considered. While there are reasons to be hopeful, including judges who dismiss “manufactured” and “boilerplate” complaints from serial website plaintiffs for a variety of reasons, including vagueness, the problem persists.

The surly nature of “drive-by” or sometimes referred to as “surf-by” ADA website lawsuits and the characters behind them are immensely frustrating and also damaging, but ignoring any lawsuit, regardless of the merits, is untenable as doing so can have devastating consequences, including by way of a default judgment. With that in mind, a common challenge that those on the receiving end of ADA accessibility lawsuits face is who to turn to. They may be bombarded with solicitations by lawyers who reach out upon seeing a particular business is sued, claiming they can help. It is hard for a business to know who to trust because some lawyers purporting to defend business owners may be “chummy” with the serial plaintiff lawyers or act as a plaintiff’s counsel in other cases, leading to potentially more unfavorable outcomes. 

An ADA Website Lawyer Who Understands The “Murky” Landscape

At RICHT, we are an ADA website compliance lawsuit defense lawyer passionate about acting as a steady hand to help clients astutely navigate the confusing landscape of complaints by “opportunistic and vexatious ADA litigants” who allege the inaccessibility of a website. While we hope that in response to the growing calls for reform, the courts or lawmakers provide reprieve to businesses by providing much-needed clarity as to the application scope and compliance parameters of the ADA, until then, we will serve clients as trustworthy counsel in defending their businesses from ADA lawsuits. From general ADA website compliance aimed at minimizing the chances of an ADA lawsuit to insurance coverage analysis as well as ADA litigation strategy and defense, we offer a full suite of services to help clients protect their businesses from ADA website compliance risk.



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Find Out About How We Can Help You Navigate ADA Website Compliance Lawsuits



     

    ADA Website Compliance & ADA Lawsuits FAQ

    An ADA website lawsuit refers to a lawyer or, at times, an individual sending a demand letter and filing a legal complaint with the court (a lawsuit) claiming a website is not compliantly accessible and, therefore, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or similar state laws (most commonly the Unruh Civil Rights Act in California and similar accessibility law in New York). While the passage of the ADA in 1990 was laudable and aimed at ensuring that those with disabilities can be equal members of society, the way the law was drafted has resulted in unintended consequences of businesses not meant to be within the scope of the law, mainly stand-alone e-commerce websites, subjected to “a contagion of lawsuits.” There is a complicated web of players involved in how these lawsuits come to be, from recruiting “serial plaintiffs” who lend their name to hundreds if not thousands of lawsuits to the consultants and lawyers seeking to make money via settlement and “attorneys fees.”
    Various terms have been used to describe the ecosystem powering ADA website lawsuits targeting businesses, ranging from “murky underworld” to “shakedown.” The reason for the use of these negative descriptions centers on the motivators behind these lawsuits as well as the “backroom deals” to some of the “serial plaintiffs” who receive payments or “free stuff.” Further, there have been various instances of some of the most prominent ADA plaintiffs lawyers engaging in unethical practices in the “manufacture” of these ADA lawsuits, including fabricating plaintiffs and embellishing disabilities.
    Some lawyers claiming to help businesses facing ADA website lawsuits play “both sides.” For example, they may defend clients against ADA lawsuits, but in other matters, they may file these kinds of lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs that are harmful to businesses and their owners. In stark contrast, RICHT is an ADA website lawsuit lawyer who defends those subject to this damaging litigation. We have never filed an ADA website lawsuit against a business, not because they are not profitable but because these lawsuits go against our core ethos of supporting business owners and not making their already challenging lives more difficult.
    While the passage of the ADA in 1990 was aimed at ensuring that those with disabilities can be equal members of society, the way the law was drafted has resulted in unintended consequences of businesses not meant to be within the scope of the law, mainly stand-alone e-commerce websites, subjected to “a contagion of lawsuits” from lawyers looking for a quick buck. There have been numerous efforts to clarify the law so these lawsuits no longer threaten businesses on both the federal and state legislative levels. There have also been efforts to seek clarity from the courts, including the Supreme Court. However, unfortunately, as of yet, there is no definitive relief for business owners seeking concrete clarity concerning ADA website lawsuits.

    Featured ADA Website Compliance Video


     


    ADA Website Compliance Lawsuit News


     

    The New York Law Journal

    Lawsuits Multiply Amid Stalled Regulatory Process On ADA Website Access

    Critics have long urged the Department of Justice to issue technical standards to ensure that websites are accessible to visually impaired users who employ screen reader software. But the agency has only issued guidelines that have been called vague and toothless as the number of Americans with Disabilities Act suits against website operators continues to climb.

    ADA Website Lawsuits
    Forbes

    Website Accessibility Lawsuits Rising Exponentially In 2023 According To Latest Data

    According to a report authored by UsableNET – a New York-based accessibility solutions company, lawsuits against website owners alleged to have breached the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have increased rapidly during the first half of 2023 across virtually every metric conceivable.

    ADA Website Lawsuits
    The New York Times

    Supreme Court Dismisses Disability Activist’s Case as Moot

    The activist, Deborah Laufer, had sued hundreds of hotels as a “tester,” having no intention of booking a stay, accusing them of inadequate disclosures about whether rooms were accessible.

    ADA Website Lawsuits
    Reuters

    US Supreme Court Mulls Limiting Disability Bias Lawsuits

    U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday raised concerns about lawsuits targeting hotels and other places of lodging for omitting details in their reservation systems about accessibility features for people with disabilities, but indicated they might opt not to decide the case.

    ADA Website Lawsuits

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