As we noted earlier this week, a handful of law firms have filed hundreds of lawsuits – and sent many hundreds of letters threatening lawsuits – over website accessibility issues. This has been a lucrative business for these firms. Many of these suits and letters are essentially cut-and-paste jobs, and the recipients often decide to quickly settle, rather than face the uncertainties and costs of litigation. But a new decision in Florida may give defendants something to think about.
A plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Bang and Olufsen in Florida, alleging that the retailer violated the ADA because its website is not compatible with screen reader software. The sole issue before the court was whether the website was a place of public accommodation, subject to the ADA.
The court concluded that “a website that is wholly unconnected to a physical location is generally not a place of public
accommodation under the ADA.” In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must generally establish that there is some nexus between a website and a physical location, and demonstrate that the website’s inaccessibility impedes his access to that location.
Importantly, the court held that the “ADA does not require places of public accommodations to create full-service websites for disabled persons. In fact, the ADA does not require a place of public accommodation to have a website at all. All the ADA requires is that, if a retailer chooses to have a website, the website cannot impede a disabled person’s full use and enjoyment of the brick-and-mortar store.”
As we noted in our previous post, it’s too early to predict how this decision will affect the wave of lawsuits in this area. Other courts have come to different conclusions on this issue, so a company’s chances of winning with this type of argument may depend on where the suit is filed. But this case may still be welcome precedent for companies thinking about litigating one of these cases.