Website Accessibility Cases Push ADA Lawsuits to New High

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Feb 21, 2019

The number of ADA Title III [prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations and commercial facilities] lawsuits filed in federal court in 2018 hit a record high of 10,163 – up 34% from 2017 when the number was a mere 7,663.  This is by far the highest number of annual filings since we started tracking these numbers in 2013, when the number of federal filings was only 2,722.

As we predicted, the number of website accessibility lawsuits (i.e. lawsuits alleging that plaintiffs with a disability could not use websites because they were not coded to work with assistive technologies like screen readers, or otherwise accessible to them) filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA exploded in 2018 to at least 2,258 – increasing by 177% from 814 such lawsuits in 2017.

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Plaintiffs filed these federal ADA Title III lawsuits in 14 states — New York and Florida being the busiest jurisdictions with 1564 and 576 lawsuits, respectively.  Pennsylvania and Massachusetts held distant third and fourth positions, as shown in the chart.

The number of New York federal website accessibility lawsuits is staggering, brought primarily by 15 law firms/lawyers.    We saw a surge in these cases after New York federal judges allowed website accessibility cases to proceed to discovery in lawsuits against Blick Art and Five Guys. The 2018 New York website accessibility filing statistic brought New York into a close second to California in the total number of ADA Title III lawsuits (not just website accessibility cases) filed in federal court.

Total ADA Title III filings in New York more than doubled from 2017 to 2018 (1,023 vs. 2,338) while the number of cases filed in Florida only increased from 1,488 to 1,94, ranking it third among all the states.

The fact that the California federal courts only had 10 website accessibility lawsuits filings in 2018 may be a surprise to some since California continues to lead the pack in the number of all ADA Title III lawsuit filings in federal court. The number of lawsuits filed in California increased by 54% from 2751 in 2,017 to 4,249 in 2018.  This record-breaking California number does not even include the many state court filings which we do not track.

However, it appears that plaintiffs filed their new cases in state court after a federal judge in the Central District of California dismissed a website accessibility lawsuit against Dominos’ in 2017.  The Ninth Circuit reversed that dismissal last month, making California federal court an attractive venue for plaintiffs once again. We predict that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling will cause the number of website accessibility lawsuits in California federal courts to increase dramatically in 2019.

About our methodology:  Our 2018 numbers are based on searches using keywords of data from the Courthouse News Services. Thus, it is possible that there are some website accessibility cases that were not captured in the searches if their descriptions did not include the keywords. We then review the thousands of entries manually to remove lawsuits that may be about websites, but are not about a website’s accessibility to a user with a disability. For example, there were a number of lawsuits in 2018 brought by plaintiffs with mobility disabilities alleging that the reservations websites of hotels did not provide adequate information about the accessibility of hotel facilities. We also removed a number of lawsuits brought against state and local government entities under Title II of the ADA for having inaccessible websites.

This article was originally published on the Seyfarth Shaw ADA Title III blog. Additional material was added.

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