Avoid potentially costly litigation by making sure your website is ADA compliant

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the internet has become an essential tool to help people work and carry out daily tasks without having to leave their homes or enter brick and mortar businesses. However, for some people with disabilities, the internet has long been critical to helping them live independently. With this in mind, now is the time for your business to evaluate its website to determine whether it is appropriately accessible to disabled persons.

While having a website designed to be accessible to disabled persons certainly makes good business sense, recent court decisions and new complaint filings further underscore the need to do so. Recently, in the case of Martinez v. San Diego County Credit Union, the California Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District held that companies who have websites with a “nexus” to a physical place of business accessible to customers are covered by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In other words, the commercial websites of “brick and mortar” businesses are considered places of public accommodation under the ADA and subject to the same requirements to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities as physical stores or offices.  

The plaintiff in Martinez is permanently blind and uses software to help him access and read website content. Martinez claimed in his lawsuit that the defendant credit union’s website was incompatible with his screen reader, thus denying him access to the defendant’s services as a place of public accommodation. The court ruled that the defendant’s website was sufficiently linked to the defendant’s physical place of business, which gives rise to an ADA claim.

While Martinez was a California state appellate decision, last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a similar ruling in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC  that likewise recognized the ADA’s public accommodation requirements apply to websites. There, the court concluded that Domino’s website and mobile app were subject to ADA scrutiny because they were sufficiently tied to a physical franchise location. Both Martinez and Robles analyze in depth how courts across the country have dealt with these issues inconsistently. Although there is no consensus on this issue nationally, website accessibility lawsuits are becoming commonplace and can be costly for businesses to defend and resolve. A business that violates the ADA can be ordered to bring its website into compliance and to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. Additionally, many states have adopted their own statutes that may require the business to pay significant damages.

If you have an issue involving website accessibility, or if you would like more information on the topic, contact one of the attorneys listed below.

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