Since mid-April 2012, more than 50 putative class action lawsuits have been filed against more than 50 different banks in federal court by Carlson Lynch, a Pittsburgh law firm. In each case, a blind individual plaintiff has sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) claiming primarily that the bank’s automated teller machines (ATMs) are not compliant with the ADA and its implementing regulations because of the lack of voice guidance technology or because the voice guidance malfunctioned.
This wave of class action litigation against the banking industry follows the U.S. Department of Justice’s issuance of new Standards for Accessible Design on September 15, 2010. ATMs had to be upgraded to include voice guidance by March 15, 2012.
While financial institutions already have expended significant amounts of capital to purchase new ATMs or upgrade existing ones, and deploy voice guidance technology promptly and efficiently, the industry has faced ATM supply shortages and an inadequate supply of technicians to complete the installations. This has created a window of opportunity for plaintiffs’ counsel to create a cottage industry of lawsuits.
Initially, a number of banks settled by entering into formal consent decrees. However, as explained by Roy Arnold, a partner at Reed Smith LLP who has been retained to defend 10 of these cases so far, the banks have successfully resisted consent decrees more recently: "Our clients have resolved a number of these cases without entering into a consent decree. A consent decree is enforceable by a motion for contempt and could lead to monetary penalties for non-compliance. It is a much better outcome for the bank to be able to avoid a consent decree and resolve the case cost-effectively."