July 19, 2024
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Guest commentary: How to protect yourself and your business from web accessibility lawsuits

IN THIS ARTICLE

By Riley Kennedy & Emilie de la Motte 

A surge in lawsuits targeting businesses whose websites lack accessibility for visually impaired people has emerged. 

One source reports a 42% increase in such lawsuits in 2023 compared with 2022. 

These legal actions often target small businesses claiming their websites limit access to the visually impaired.  

The most recent lawsuit was filed last month in Ventura County, with others suits pending in San Luis Obispo County.  

It is estimated that 98% of websites are considered non-accessible to the visually impaired. 

The risk of facing such lawsuits, or a pre-litigation monetary demand, is very real.   

UPDATE WEBSITES TO MEET STANDARDS

Businesses of all sizes and scopes should immediately review and update their websites to align with the latest Web Accessibility Standards. The prevailing standard, WCAG2, outlines the criteria for an accessible website. Legal counsel, such as Carmel & Naccasha, can connect your business to well-versed specialists in web accessibility, ensuring your website meets compliance standards. 

This can minimize the risk of potential lawsuits. 

More information on web accessibility standards can be found here: w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/   

CONFIRM ADEQUATE INSURANCE COVERAGE

Ensure your business is adequately covered against claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) typically covers ADA claims, but not all policies do. Verify with your insurance broker the scope and limits of coverage, including deductibles. 

Contact your legal counsel to learn more. 

DEVELOP AN ACCESSIBILITY STATEMENT

Given the evolving nature of web accessibility standards, it is essential to demonstrate a commitment to accessibility. 

Adding an Accessibility Statement to your website signals your dedication to inclusivity and compliance with accessibility guidelines. 

Technology law specialists can craft tailored Accessibility Statements for all types of businesses, reinforcing your commitment to accessibility and minimizing legal risks. 

In addition to an Accessibility Statement, all business websites should also include a Disclaimer and Privacy Policy. 

THE LEGAL LANDSCAPE

A disabled individual who encounters barriers that impede their access to a business’s offerings due to their disability may have legal grounds for action under both the ADA and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. While these statutes do not expressly state websites are public accommodations, a 2022 California court held the ADA can encompass websites if they impede equal access to goods or services offered at physical locations. 

However, this legal landscape could soon change, as California lawmakers are currently deliberating on AB 1757. This bill aims to codify web accessibility standards. 

If passed, businesses could become immediately liable under the law as the bill currently has no transitionary compliance period. 

Businesses should stay informed about potential legal changes regarding website accessibility. 

Navigating the complexities of web accessibility compliance can be daunting. 

Speak to an attorney to provide guidance to reduce risk to your business against potential lawsuits. 

Proactively protecting your business will allow you to focus on growth and serving your clients.  

• Riley Kennedy is a summer legal intern in the Litigation Division at Carmel & Naccasha, LLP. He can be reached by calling (805) 226-4148 or rkennedy@carnaclaw.com. 

• Emilie de la Motte is a Partner in Carmel & Naccasha’s Litigation Practice with a focus on civil litigation, corporate and business transactions, product and premise liability, toxic tort, insurance coverage defense and construction defect law. He can be reached at (805) 546-8785 or edelamotte@carnaclaw.com.