Can You Really Get Sued Because Your Website Isn’t ADA Compliant?

Can You Really Get Sued Because My Website Isn't ADA Compliant?

What is The ADA – The Americans With Disabilities Act

Drafted in 1990 and enacted a couple of years later, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities from discrimination. There are several parts of the ADA, called Titles, and Title III of the ADA protects those with disabilities from discrimination by “places of public accommodation,” which is another way to say “commercial businesses,” such as retail stores, office buildings, shopping malls, restaurants, medical offices, and so on. In a nutshell, businesses cannot discriminate against people because of their disabilities. 

That means that your physical place of business needs to have those things it probably already does have, like handicapped parking spots, wide doorways, low countertops in restaurants and retail stores, ramps and elevators, and so on. 

So if you have a physical place of business, you are probably complying with the ADA already.

How do ADA Lawsuits Work?

But not all businesses are ADA compliant, and so a cottage industry was born where people would visit businesses with their clipboards, cameras and tape measures, and document the non-compliant parts of the business. Then go back to their attorneys with their evidence and file a lawsuit against the business or building owner. 

These “drive-by lawsuits” have made people a lot of money. However, the ADA only allows for people to sue to get the changes made to the business, and for Attorneys fees. And make no mistake: ADA attorneys are not cheap! Plaintiffs in these lawsuits seek out expensive attorneys because they know that you will be paying their fee. The money is made when illicit deals are made between the plaintiff and the attorney so that they both profit from the lawsuit, which is generally settled out of court.

What Does the ADA Say About Websites?

Websites weren’t really invented until after the ADA was written, and the ADA has not been updated to refer to websites in all the years since it was initially passed. So the answer to “What does the ADA say about Websites” is “Nothing!

So if the ADA doesn’t mention websites, then how can you be sued because your website isn’t ADA Compliant?

How Does the ADA Apply To Websites?

Confused? Don’t be. Website ADA Compliance is a big topic. There are more ways to create laws than writing regulations. One of those ways is when a government administrative body issues an opinion. In this case, the Department of Justice issued opinions as far back as the late 90’s to say that the ADA applies to websites. The DOJ repeated that opinion more emphatically as recently as 2018.

Another way that laws are made is by “precedent.” That means that when a judge interprets a law in a certain way, and issues a ruling on a case, that case is often referred to by other attorneys in future cases. And that’s the case with the ADA as well. Prior cases have created a foundation for future cases, which only seem to become more common.

How Common Are Website ADA Compliance Lawsuits?

Back in 2015 there were only about 50 Website ADA Compliance Lawsuits. That number grew to over 2,250 by 2018. And estimates are that for every one of these lawsuits that actually gets filed and goes to court, 40 are threatened and settled out of court. That means over 90,000 cases in just one year. 

One example of how common Website ADA Compliance Lawsuits are is the story of Emily Fuller, a visually impaired woman in Florida who sued 175 small, medium and large businesses — from her local mall’s sandal store, up to larger businesses like Sephora — because their websites were not ADA compliant.

And she is just one out of thousands of people doing exactly the same thing.

How Expensive Are Website ADA Compliance Lawsuits?

Great Question! This gets to the heart of the matter — money! ADA Compliance lawsuits can be very expensive. Good or great attorneys range in price from $500 to $1,000 an hour or more. Some plaintiffs could hire a team of attorneys, each with their own responsibilities for the lawsuits they file. Then they need to hire paralegals, expensive expert witnesses and technicians, and other support staff. So imagine a team of $1,000 an hour attorneys and $600 an hour expert witnesses and $400 an hour paralegals and $200 an hour administrators each piling up dozens of hours on your case…and that’s before you even know you’re about to get sued.

Once the lawsuit is filed, if you’re going to defend yourself, you’re going to need to hire a team of lawyers and experts, too. 

And remember, that the ADA says that the prevailing party can recover attorneys fees. So if you lose, not only are you going to need to pay for your own attorneys, you’ll need to pay for the plaintiff’s attorneys, too. Plus you’ll need to fix your site. Plus you’ll likely need to train your staff on Accessibility Tolerance, you’ll need to repeatedly test your website for accessibility issues…and on and on.

So how expensive are website ADA compliance lawsuits? Very! They could cost tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe even millions.

Why Are Website ADA Compliance Lawsuits More Expensive In California?

Everything seems to be more expensive in California, but ADA lawsuits of all kinds, including website ADA Compliance Lawsuits, are especially expensive. That’s because California has its own Civil Rights Law, called the Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA) that mimics the ADA, but adds much harsher penalties for violators. If you can get sued because your website isn’t ADA Compliant, you can be sued under the UCRA for your non-compliant website, too.

Under the UCRA, each occurrence of an ADA Violation has a minimum statutory penalty of $4,000. So that means that if you have a 100 page website, and there’s just one ADA violation on every page, the statutory penalty — assuming you lose your court case — would be $400,000.

But if you’ve got one ADA Compliance problem on your web pages, you’re sure to have dozens more…on every page. So you can see how the costs of losing a Website ADA Compliance Lawsuit can be very, very high. And the kicker is that your business does not have to be based in California to be sued under the UCRA. That’s because the UCRA protects California residents, and they can visit your website no matter where it is based.

So…Can You Get Sued Because Your Website Isn’t ADA Compliant?

I hope it’s clear to you that YES, you CAN get sued because your website isn’t ADA compliant. And it’s not cheap.

But avoiding a lawsuit isn’t the only reason to make your website ADA compliant. Its’ frankly just the right thing to do so that potentially millions of people with various disabilities — including visual impairment, hearing impairment, cognitive disabilities, motor disabilities, epileptics and others — encounter plenty of obstacles throughout the course of their day. Your website doesn’t need to be one of them. 

And if your website is no longer an obstacle to people with disabilities, you might notice that your business might increase by as much as 10% to 15%, which is the estimated number of people in the USA with disabilities.

How To Not Get Sued Because Your Website Isn’t ADA Compliant

If you live in the USA, you probably know that there is no way to ever guarantee you won’t be sued for any reason at any time. But you can choose how to deal with the threat of a website ADA lawsuit in any one of a number of ways.

One approach to Website ADA compliance is to roll the dice and hope it doesn’t happen to you. It’s not a very good strategy, but there are people who drive without auto insurance, too. And they’re usually okay for a while. But one thing is for sure: every time they get behind the wheel, they wonder if today is the day they’ll get in an accident. 

So you could hope and pray you won’t get sued. And frankly, if you do get sued, it doesn’t mean you’ll lose the lawsuit. You could settle, which means you won’t need to hire so many attorneys on your side. With any luck, it will only cost you some number of tens of thousands of dollars. The problem with this approach is that you’re likely to get sued a second time, and then a third until and unless you eventually fix the problem. 

The best way to avoid getting sued over Website ADA compliance issues is to make your website ADA compliant. The process is called “remediation” and it’s what we do here at Web Compliance Pro. There are several ways to remediate a website for ADA compliance, but we think our way — which is a combination of Artificial Intelligence and manual updates — is the quickest, most effective way.

Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

If all this discussion about whether you can really get sued because your website isn’t ADA compliant has got you curious about whether YOUR website is ADA compliant, just ask us. We’ll do a quick evaluation of your website and let you know if your website is substantially compliant, or if it needs some work. We can even tell you how much it might cost. All you’ve got to do is ask by visiting our online website ADA assessment page. And if you’ve got any other questions about ADA Compliance, visit our Contact page and ask, or call us at 818-592-6370, ext 1.