In a bombshell report published by Accessibility.com, the organization estimated that 265,000 website accessibility demand letters were sent to businesses last year. Astounding on its own, if the figure is correct or close to correct, U.S. companies could have spent billions of dollars in legal costs as a direct result of inaccessible websites in 2020 alone. Businesses looking for a wake-up call to make website accessibility a priority in 2021 and beyond might have just found it.
Companies that receive an ADA demand letter related to website accessibility can expect to spend thousands as a result. According to Kris Rivenburgh, "If you receive a website (or app) accessibility demand letter under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) $25,000 is a conservative final tab after you're done at the buffet of plaintiff's law firm." He further itemizes the costs for a "smallish" business, allocating $5,000 – $15,000 to the plaintiff's law firm, $5,000 to your defense attorney, and between $5,000 and $20,000 for audit and remediation costs.
Doing some simple math with the estimates from Accessibility.com and the associated cost information from Mr. Rivenburgh, last year's expense to businesses targeted with demand letters is easily in the billions.
Assuming all of the 265,000 demand letters resulted in a settlement at an average conservative cost of $25,000, the expense to U.S. businesses would have been $6.625 billion in 2020. Cutting the demand letters that led to a settlement in half, at that same average cost, that comes to a total business expense of over $3.3 billion. It's possible the numbers are higher. If the $25,000 figure is in fact conservative, doing the same calculations with a higher business expense could quickly send up the $3.3 billion to $6.625 billion range even more.
On the more conservative side, running the same calculations using only the lower-end numbers still yields some eye-opening costs. Spending only $5,000 on the plaintiff's law firm and only $5,000 on the defending firm, if businesses settled as a result of all 265,000 demand letters, they would have done so last year at a cost of $2.65 billion. Even with half of them settling, each for nothing more than $10,000 in legal fees, their collective bill stays over a billion dollars at $1.325 billion.
The Accessibility.com report claimed there were 2,058 website accessibility lawsuits filed last year, which they say reflect a 9% decrease from 2019; however, the report also stated:
While formal lawsuit numbers slightly decreased, the estimated number of demand letters sent continues to increase — based on discussions with industry experts and legal authorities, and tracking data like search term volume.
The example provided was a 64% increase in "ADA demand letter" searches from the year before.
Businesses are strongly encouraged not to wait for a demand letter to get an accessibility plan in motion. The ADA, other federal laws, state laws, and even international laws apply to and protect website accessibility. In addition to the monetary, time, and reputation costs of being served a demand letter, companies will probably have to fix their websites anyway, making the wait-it-out approach ineffective and unnecessarily costly.
The best way to achieve digital accessibility is to test and remediate websites according to WCAG 2.1. The report published by Accessibility.com stated that the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were cited in 54% of the lawsuits filed last year, which is not surprising.
The most-targeted industries, according to the report, were consumer goods; apparel; food products; hotel, restaurant, and leisure; and beauty.
Notably, the report also identified that:
- 55% of cases were filed in New York.
- Nearly 20% of cases were filed by only six plaintiffs.
- Nearly 50% of all cases were filed by only five law firms.
The best time to audit and remediate your website is absolutely before you receive a demand letter. Approaching accessibility in a proactive way that best serves your customers and business is more effective (and cheaper) than having to address it in response to a demand letter. If you've already received an ADA demand letter, however, it's not too late. Your first call should probably be to your attorney and your next to a trusted and experienced digital accessibility partner.