2022 was a record-setting year considering the number of website accessibility lawsuit filings.
What are website accessibility lawsuits?
They are lawsuits filed by disabled user plaintiffs because they couldn’t use a website as it wasn’t accessible or compatible with assistive technologies.
And plaintiffs filed as many as 3,255 cases in 2022, a whopping 360 or 12% more than the number of lawsuits filed in 2021. While 2021 experienced a slightly higher increase of lawsuits at 14%, 2022’s 12% spike equals the 12% increase of 2020.
Of course, these statistics are nothing compared to the massive (177%) increase in cases between 2017 and 2018, but the annual increase is significant.
There was a steady increase in lawsuits in the first half of 2022. It increased from 210 in January to 383 in March, later taking a drop to 164 in April, only to increase to 412 cases in May and 448 in June.
The number of cases was more consistent, lying between 232 to 273 between July to October and then dropping to 163 in November, to end the year with a spike at 201 cases in December.
The busiest federal courts were New York, California, Florida, and Pennsylvania, with New York leading the list, followed by Florida, Pennsylvania, and California.
New York federal courts handled 2,560 lawsuits in 2022, a spike from 2,074 in 2021, 1,694 in 2020, 1,354 in 2019, and 1,564 in 2018.
Florida’s second place faced only 310 lawsuits, and California handled 126 lawsuits in 2022, a drop from 359 cases in 2021, 223 in 2020, 120 in 2019, and 10 in 2018.
Pennsylvania handled 216 cases in 2022, an increase from the 167 lawsuits filed in 2021 and 173 cases filed in 2020. Illinois comes in fifth spot with 19 cases lower than the 34 cases it handled in 2021, 32 in 2020, and 91 in 2019.
Connecticut and Indiana are next in the top 10 states with low numbers of 5 and 2 cases, while Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Minnesota are new entries to the list. They beat Oregon and Wisconsin to grab the last spots in the list with 13, 3, and 1 lawsuit each.
Why California has fewer website accessibility cases than New York
Many wonder why California has fewer website accessibility cases than New York, despite having the Unruh law. It may be because plaintiffs prefer New York courts, especially in cases where the defendant is an online-only business.
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit still hasn’t clarified if the ADA covers online-only businesses. However, except for a few cases, New York district court judges that have handled these lawsuits indicate that ADA covers online-only businesses.
However, in the case of California, both state and federal courts of appeals have concluded that ADA doesn’t cover online-only businesses. This conclusion makes it difficult and impossible for plaintiffs to sue online-only companies for violating digital accessibility. So it looks like California state and federal courts will see fewer website accessibility cases in the future.
The lawsuit data doesn’t include the many demand letters law firms send out, which don’t culminate in lawsuits. Or the difficult-to-track lawsuits commonly filed in California state courts.
The numbers also don’t include lawsuits for inaccessible mobile apps unless it alleges inaccessibility in the website.
Will the Title II rule starting in 2023 make a difference?
Many wonders if the Title II rulemaking effort, which should start in 2023, will make many differences in the 2023 lawsuit. It’s doubtful to make any difference as the process takes up time, is applicable only to state and local governments under Title II, and doesn’t apply to private businesses.
While there is a chance of a consequent Title III, it may not be within the end of this Presidential term.
We compiled our data through searches using keywords in the Courthouse News Services. So there’s a chance of missing website accessibility cases that didn’t include the keywords in their descriptions.
Once we get a list of thousands of lawsuits, we review them manually and remove cases about inaccessible websites, but not about a website’s accessibility to disabled users.
For example, there were plaintiffs with mobility disabilities who filed multiple lawsuits between 2018 to 2021, alleging that the hotel website registration pages provided insufficient information about accessibility in the hotels.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.