Virtually every business, small or large, owns, operates and maintains a website advertising its goods and services. What many businesses don’t know is that these websites are subject to compliance with Title III of the American Disability Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §12182. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination in the full and equal enjoyment of places of public accommodations on the basis of disability. While the ADA does not provide for monetary damages to private parties bringing ADA lawsuits, it does provide for “reasonable” attorneys fees, which can end up being astronomical in the eyes of many small and medium sized businesses. Also, some state laws, like in New York and California, provide for monetary damages for ADA violations. The practice of threatening to file or filing ADA lawsuits against businesses in the offline world has thrived since the ADA’s adoption in 1990. Traditionally, the ADA most commonly regulated physical businesses open to the public – movie theaters, banks or handicap-accessible parking spaces. However with the growth of the Internet, ADA lawsuits against operators of websites have proliferated.
Claiming that business websites are “places of public accommodation” subject to the ADA, professional plaintiffs are bringing lawsuits based on the argument that these websites are not accessible to those with disabilities, such as the blind or hearing impaired. Currently, courts across the US are divided as to whether business websites qualify as “places of public accommodation.” In other words, while a court in California might not find the ADA applicable to a website unless that website is tied to a physical store, a court in Vermont might. Although the Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing federal laws and issuing guidelines, it has pushed back issuing website accessibility regulations indefinitely. Meanwhile businesses have seen an increased number of lawsuits from professional plaintiffs. These lawsuits are being brought in both individual and class action settings, and professional plaintiffs are taking advantage of businesses’ general lack of knowledge about their own websites and about ADA compliance.
Considering all the chaos and uncertainty in the law surrounding the ADA, it is important that businesses make their website content accessible using the guidelines set out by the World Wide Web Consortium. By ensuring that their websites reasonably accommodate disabled persons, businesses will protect themselves from “shake down” lawsuits filed by career plaintiffs looking for an easy target.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 and is filed under FTC Advertising Law Compliance, Internet Law News.