Web Developers Could Be Targets of New Website Accessibility Lawsuits

March 29, 2018

The past several years have seen a sharp uptick in lawsuits against websites for failing to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2017 alone, there were 814 federal ADA lawsuits alleging discrimination due to inaccessible websites.

Past lawsuits have targeted only the organizations that are the subject of the website, such as Domino’s Pizza and Dominos.com. In a marked change of pace, however, one recent ADA lawsuit names both the business and the developers responsible for creating the website as defendants in the case.

In January 2018, plaintiff Juan Carlos Gil filed an ADA case against Wet Willie’s Management Corporation, the owner of the Wet Willie’s chain of bars, as well as Sabre Technologies, the website developer for WetWillies.com.

Gil, who is blind and uses screen reader software to access the internet, claims that the Wet Willie’s website fails to meet common website accessibility standards such as the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and is therefore inaccessible to users with disabilities. As such, the plaintiff argues that both the business and its website development partner are liable for this alleged ADA violation.

The Wet Willie’s lawsuit is charting new legal ground by claiming that website developers are directly responsible for the inaccessibility of the websites that they create, in addition to the businesses for which the websites are created. If this lawsuit succeeds, it could signal a major shift in responsibility for website developers to build and maintain accessible websites.

This lawsuit is a further reminder for developers and platform providers to take accessibility seriously and to build it into their websites from the very beginning. In addition, businesses and developers should consider partnering with accessibility experts and legal firms who can advise them about measures that reduce their risk of being sued.

If you’re a business or website developer and you receive a notice alleging violation of the ADA, you should look carefully at your contract to see what protections and responsibilities you may have. In the meantime, you need to start taking action to mitigate your liability. Draw up a compliance plan with a timeline that outlines how you intend to make your website more accessible, and speak with legal firms and accessibility experts who can provide valuable advice.

For more guidance on website accessibility, contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility for an in-depth review of your current website’s accessibility, or visit the BoIA blog for more tips on increasing your website’s usability and compatibility with assistive devices.

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