The Truth Behind 2018’s Massive Increase in Web Accessibility Lawsuits

June 12, 2019 BY 3MEDIAWEB
Updated: July 13, 2021

From 2017 to 2018, web accessibility lawsuits increased by 181%.

While the sudden uptake in lawsuits is alarming, it serves as a wake-up call for companies. The internet is becoming an undeniable necessity; it’s important that everyone has equal access to it.

UsableNet’s research team tracked every one of the 2,285 lawsuits in 2018. Here’s what they uncovered.

Patterns Within 2,285 Web Accessibility Lawsuits

The number of cases filled  increased from 814 in 2017 to 2,285 in 2018 . All these cases were brought forth under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The data shows distinct but important patterns that help shape how the ADA is being applied to modern businesses.

Two States, 96% of Lawsuits

While web accessibility lawsuits were filed all over the US, New York and Florida had the majority of lawsuits filled – 96%.

New York alone accounted for 64% of lawsuits with an average of 123 lawsuits filed per month. Florida averaged 61 lawsuits per month accounting for 31% of the cases filed.

The remaining 4% of cases filled came from Texas, Massachusetts, California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

A graphic communicates that in Florida, 726 lawsuits were filed in 2018 resulting in an average of 61 lawsuits filed per month. Out of all 2018 lawsuits, Florida was responsible for 32%. New York was accountable for 64% of all 2018 lawsuits.

Image from UsableNet

Companies Everywhere Can Be Affected

While the majority of lawsuits came from two states, only 29% of the companies targeted were actually headquartered in New York and Florida. In fact, the companies targeted were based all over the United States and even internationally – 11% of companies sued were located in Italy, France, Japan, and Brazil.

The key takeaway is that  a company does not have to be headquartered in the same state as the lawsuit . The ADA is a federal law, it applies to all states and it applies to public and private businesses. As more businesses shift online, digital accessibility is becoming more important than ever before.

The 6 Main Industries

While a range of industries was affected, UsableNet noticed 6 industries with the majority of lawsuits – retail, food service, travel/hospitality, banking/financial, entertainment and leisure, and self-service.

Retail saw the majority of lawsuits – 38%. Companies included internet-only businesses like Glossier and brick-and-mortar businesses with online stores like H&M.

Does the ADA Actually Apply to the Internet?

While the ADA does not specifically mention the internet, recent trends in digital accessibility lawsuits – like those filled in 2018 – have shown its application into the digital world as well.

Netflix was the first company to be sued in 2012, and the court ruled that the absence of a physical place is still considered a “place of public accommodation.”

On June 2011, the NAD filed a suit against Netflix for failing to provide closed captions. The case traveled up to court, and the final ruling stated Netflix was considered a “place of public accommodation” and therefore had to make their services accessible to people with disabilities.

The lack of online standards makes it unclear for companies to know what they need to be doing. For now, it’s best to take a proactive approach.

How to Be Proactive with Web Accessibility

Without legal standards from the DOJ,  companies need to take accessibility into their own hands .

Companies should start by organizing all the key places they need to ensure accessibility. They should adhere to WCAG guidelines and work with a digital accessibility consultant. Most importantly, they should adapt their policies and set intentions for creating a more accessible future.

Register now for ACCESS, a web & video accessibility conference hosted by 3Play Media. Learn and network with digital accessibility experts like disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold, actor CJ Jones, and representatives from Adobe, Wistia, USFSP, Hubspot, and more!
CCESS 2019 in Boston on Oct. 3rd. Learn how to get started with accessibility

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