A wave of demand letters is hitting the desks of businesses that operate Web sites. These letters are coming from plaintiff law firms who claim the business’s website is inaccessible under the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”). Typically, the demand letter threatens litigation unless the business enters into a settlement agreement. Title III of the ADA does not allow a private party to collect monetary damages, only injunctive relief and reasonable attorney’s fees. So the proposed settlement agreement requires the business to pay the yet to be named plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and costs and use its expert to make the Web site “compliant” with the ADA.
The ADA requires places of public accommodation to be accessible to the disabled. The ADA does not specifically address access to Web sites. The courts are split on whether Web sites are places of public accommodation under the ADA. Some courts require the Web site to have a connection to goods and services offered at a physical location. Other courts find the ADA applies even in the absence of a connection to a physical location. No court has provided specific guidelines that private businesses must follow to make their website accessible.
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) is supposed to come out with Web site accessibility regulations for private businesses, but after delaying the guidelines’ release many times, the DOJ now says these will not come out until 2018. In the meantime, the DOJ has stated the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 is its go to standard to determine acceptable Web site accessibility. As for public entities, the DOJ expects to issue proposed rules on Web site accessibility in early 2016, which should provide some guidance for private business.
Plaintiff law firms are taking advantage of the law’s ambiguity on Web site accessibility standards. Before your business becomes a party to the shakedown, review your Web site for accessibility issues.