Perhaps the last thing that many companies are focused on in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is the extent to which their websites are compliant with accepted accessibility standards and the threat of ADA website accessibility class actions or individual claims. Unfortunately, however, it appears that ever-enterprising plaintiffs’ attorneys are taking advantage of this crisis to press these already ubiquitous claims even further.
Over the past several years, thousands of federal lawsuits, styled as both class and individual actions, have been filed against companies in many industries seeking injunctive and compensatory relief for website-related violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, has taken the position that the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” developed by the World Wide Web Consortium provide a minimum standard, and most courts have agreed. These cases seek injunctive and compensatory relief for violations of the ADA and analogous state and local anti-discrimination laws, specifically alleging that websites are not compliant with the ADA and accessibility guidelines particularly for vision-impaired users. These cases have developed into a lucrative cottage industry for certain plaintiffs’ attorneys, as they are easy to prosecute, difficult to defend, and often result in expedited settlements. Gibbons has defended scores of these claims for its clients across the country.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our clients who face ADA website accessibility claims now do so in an environment of suspended business operations and impaired cash flow due to mandatory workforce reductions and social distancing directives. While one might expect that these economic and logistical burdens would result in a relaxation of the financial and injunctive demands made on distressed companies in these cases, we are already seeing some plaintiffs taking the opposite track – enhancing their demands by arguing an even greater need for accessible website access for the disabled public who find themselves more reliant than ever on internet-based services.
If you have any questions or would like more information about dealing with ADA website accessibility claims, or simply want to take a proactive approach to mitigating this risk in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, please contact Mark S. Sidoti.
Gibbons attorneys have been working closely with clients over the past weeks to navigate emergent, unexpected challenges in these and other wide-ranging areas. Over the coming days, Gibbons will continue reaching out regularly to clients to let you know the various ways we can assist you with advice, counsel, best practices, and creative solutions for this turbulent situation, to help you ensure operational continuity and emerge from the current crisis.
To view all client alerts in Gibbons “The Coronavirus Pandemic and Your Business: How We Can Help” Series, click here. Please also be sure to follow Gibbons on LinkedIn for a continuous feed of COVID-19 related updates and other important business, industry, and firm news.