Many hotel owners already know they need to pay attention to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, both to provide a positive experience for guests and to avoid costly litigation. A proposed new California law, however, should bring their focus to website accessibility; if adopted, business owners, as well as their web developers, would be vulnerable to substantial statutory damages and attorney’s fee if sued by a plaintiff who succeeds in court.
Recently, the California Assembly quietly instituted a bill that would dramatically change the landscape of ADA website litigation. If you think the recent wave of ADA website lawsuits has been alarming, buckle up – because you haven’t seen anything yet.
The Assembly re-drafted an existing bill, AB1757, which if passed would include the adoption of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.1 into California’s disabled access law. AB1757 specifically would give plaintiffs the right to sue businesses if their website fails to meet those guidelines, which are not yet part of Federal accessibility law. Additionally and perhaps more alarming, if passed into law, the legislation would give ADA plaintiffs a direct claim to sue you and your web developers.
A plaintiff who prevails under AB1757 will be entitled to collect all damages, including but not limited to, statutory damages of $4,000 every time a person who is blind, low visioned or cognitively disabled visited your website or was deterred from visiting the website, as well as attorney’s fees resulting from the lawsuit.
To whom would AB1757 apply?
If passed, AB1757 would apply to all public businesses that own or operate a website for the sale of goods and services. AB1757 also would apply to “resource service providers,” or website developers, who operate, maintain, and/or build websites for public accommodations.
Protection for business owners
Traditionally, website developers have escaped liability in accessibility litigation. Not only does AB1757 provide individuals with disabilities the right to sue website owners, but it also allows for compensation for website accessibility issues directly from website developers. To our knowledge, this is the first time such a rule would be officially codified into law.
Anticipated major rise in litigation
AB1757 would encourage litigation, by granting every person and/or entity the right to sue a violator of the WCAG 2.1. Furthermore, if passed into law, AB1757 would provide little leeway for business owners and/or web developers to bring websites into WCAG 2.1 conformity. Many accessible websites may not conform specifically to WCAG 2.1 guidelines, as WCAG 2.1 is currently not official law. Not only will it take time to bring websites into full conformity, but we anticipate many business owners, website owners, and even web developers will not be aware of AB1757 until it is too late.
Current status of AB1757
Currently, the bill is in the amendment period of the Committee Hearing. During the Committee Hearing stage, the author presents the bill to the Committee and testimony can be heard in support of or opposition to the bill. The Committee then votes by passing the bill, passing the bill as amended, or defeating the bill. The bill can be amended several times.
During this stage, letters of support or opposition are important, and should be mailed to the author and Committee members before the bill is scheduled to be heard. As of now, the bill is set for a second hearing but without a specific date. Interested parties can send letters of support or opposition to Assembly Members Brian Maienschein (Chair), Matt Haney, Diane B. Dixon, Damon Connolly, Ash Kalra, Blanca Pacheco, Diane Papan, and Eloise Reyes.
As of August 21, 2023, California Assembly Bill (AB) 1757 was in committee. The bill’s second hearing was canceled at the request of the author. It is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.