ADA Title III lawsuits increase by 320% in 8 years

WASHINGTON — The number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal court has increased more than 320% in eight years, according to law firm Seyfarth, and most of them are about the accessibility of websites.

The firm’s team for Title III, which covers businesses and nonprofits open to the public, consists of attorneys with extensive experience in this type of litigation who are located in offices across the U.S., including California, where most of the cases are filed.

Seyfarth reported that 11,452 cases were filed by plaintiffs in 2021, which is an all-time record since the firm started keeping track in 2013, when there were only 2,722 suits filed.

The firm said most of these lawsuits were filed in federal court about the accessibility of websites, a type of lawsuit that was rare to non-existent back in 2013. See related story: Is your website accessible to all?

As more and more consumers shop for items including home furnishings using e-commerce, an increasing number of manufacturers and retailers are facing these lawsuits because their websites are not accessible to those with disabilities. The legal standards are set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 and the federal government’s Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The main types of access are for those with visual and auditory impairments, as well as motor skill issues and cognitive challenges. Some of the common issues for those with visual disabilities involve challenges that arise when using the website with screen reading software that reads the embedded code. The latest numbers from the National Federation for the Blind show that 7.6 million Americans are living with some type of visual disability.

“California remains a lawsuit hotbed, no doubt because plaintiffs can add a state law discrimination claim under the Unruh Act and get $4,000 in statutory damages for every incident of discrimination without even having to prove an actual injury,” according to a blog post written by Seyfarth attorneys Minh Vu, Kristina Launey and Susan Ryan. “The 5,930 California filings accounted for just over half the total number of filings nationwide. New York was a distant second, with 2,774 lawsuits, and Florida was third, with only 1,054 lawsuits. In short, there were more ADA Title III suits filed in California than in all other 49 states combined.”

The Seyfarth attorneys said the research involved a painstaking manual process of going through all federal cases that were coded as ADA or other, and then manually culling out the ADA Title II and categorizing them by state.

“We predict 2022 will be comparable to 2021 unless there is another COVID-related shutdown, but that seems unlikely at this point,” the attorneys said in the blog. “Plus, ADA Title III plaintiffs’ lawyers have adapted to working remotely and are more productive than ever.”