If your business receives an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) demand letter, you need to address web accessibility barriers as soon as possible — otherwise, you might find yourself fighting multiple lawsuits at once.
In their 2022 review of web accessibility litigation, Accessibility.com found a 143% year-over-year increase in the number of companies that received multiple lawsuits. The trend probably won’t end anytime soon; the report also predicts a 200% increase in 2023.
The Precedent for Multiple ADA Website Lawsuits
Plaintiffs don’t need to wait for litigation to conclude before filing a new lawsuit. In another article, we detailed the precedent set by Haynes v. Hooters.
The short version: Restaurant chain Hooters of America, LLC settled a lawsuit with plaintiff Andres Gomez, who has a vision disability, for alleged accessibility barriers on the restaurant’s website.
The settlement required Hooters to conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standards for accessibility. But before Hooters finished their remediations, they received another lawsuit from a separate plaintiff, Dennis Haynes.
According to the court, the restaurant’s settlement had no bearing to the second case.
“Hooters’ assurance to an unrelated third party to remediate its website does not alone moot Haynes’ claims for relief,” the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida wrote.
An ADA settlement agreement may determine whether multiple lawsuits are possible
The terms of a settlement may impact an organization’s legal risk. If a business recognizes that the agreement benefits all users with disabilities, they may be able to argue that multiple lawsuits are moot — the company is already legally bound to make accessibility improvements, and another lawsuit won’t change that obligation.
But even when an organization makes this argument successfully, they’ll face hefty legal expenses in the process. That’s why most businesses choose to settle complaints out of court.
The law firms responsible for most ADA filings are certainly aware of these factors. After all, they’ve got plenty of experience: According to Accessibility.com, more than 66% of all web accessibility lawsuits in 2022 were filed by five law firms.
Some ADA demands may be based on earlier lawsuits
In Haynes v. Hooters, Haynes' lawsuit was extraordinarily similar to the earlier plaintiff’s complaint. That may have been a conscious decision.
Law firms and plaintiffs monitor ongoing lawsuits to look for opportunities to file complaints. After all, if one plaintiff can prove that a business’s website is inaccessible — and the business cannot make the necessary changes quickly — additional plaintiffs have a blueprint for building a case.
When facing ADA complaints, WCAG provides the best defense
The number of web accessibility lawsuits continues to climb each year, but despite the risks, the majority of the internet’s top websites contain serious accessibility barriers.
Plaintiffs don’t need to do much research to find potential offenders. And while lawsuits against large companies tend to attract the most headlines, small businesses aren’t exempt: In June 2022, more than 70 California wineries faced federal lawsuits. Nearly all of them were opened by a single plaintiff.
The good news is that businesses don’t need to wait for an ADA demand letter (or several demand letters) to take action. WCAG provides businesses with simple guidance for creating accessible content. The standards are frequently referenced in federal lawsuits — and if your organization builds content for WCAG conformance, you can effectively limit your risks.
Accessible web design provides dozens of benefits apart from legal protection. When your website works for every type of user, everyone wins. To start building a sustainable strategy, send us a message or read about the business case for an accessible website.