In an earlier blog, we told you about three Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits that could affect your bank website in the future. International law firm Seyfarth Shaw projects a total of 2,408 ADA website accessibility lawsuits will be filed by the end of 2019, a 7% increase compared to 2018. In fact, in the first half of 2019, almost 22% of all federal ADA Title III lawsuits filed were web accessibility cases.
Most of the ADA compliance lawsuits against financial institutions are legitimate, necessary claims disabled people have filed when websites are difficult or impossible for them to use. However, several attorneys are using this as an opportunity to profit off of others’ misfortunes.
Creating litigation for financial gain is barratry, and it’s illegal in all states. Regardless, ambulance chasers continue to deliberately find banks and credit unions to target with web accessibility lawsuits. In this blog, you’ll learn how ambulance chasers operate, and we’ll tell you about three attorneys and law firms renown for ADA litigation.
In an interview with Fortune magazine, attorney Thomas Barton of law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP calls the onslaught of web accessibility cases “a cottage industry.” He explains how unscrupulous attorneys often run readily available online accessibility tests, such as WAVE, on business websites to find an easy mark.
The New York Times reports that once a business is targeted, attorneys recruit plaintiffs from advocacy groups for disabled people. Other times, a plaintiff hires counsel with a valid claim against a specific business. The attorney may then use the same plaintiff to file claims against multiple businesses.
Litigation begins with sending a demand letter to the business, alleging it does not have an ADA-compliant website. The business can ignore the letter and fight the complaint in court. The alternative is for the business to correct the allegations and modify its website to meet ADA requirements. The business then responds to the letter, outlining the actions taken and usually pays a settlement to avoid going to trial.
While the plaintiff may receive a few hundred dollars from the payout, the attorney often collects thousands for his or her fees. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Most [businesses] settle quickly, for between $10,000 and $75,000…with the money typically going toward plaintiff’s fees and expenses.”
Juan Carlos Gil was the plaintiff in what is believed to be the first web accessibility lawsuit: Juan Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. Gil, who was born with cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair and legally blind, claimed he couldn’t fill prescriptions and download coupons on the grocery store’s website using his screen reader. The court ruled in his favor. As of November 2018, Gil and his lawyer, Scott Dinin, have filed 175 lawsuits against businesses and government agencies for web accessibility infractions.
Gil isn’t Dinin’s only client. Seyfarth Shaw says that in 2018, Alexander Johnson was the plaintiff in 50 of the 251 federal lawsuits Dinin filed. As of August of this year, Dinin has represented Johnson in 24 of 177 cases.
Also in August, U.S. District Judge Paul Huck discovered Dinin had paid Johnson more than $84,500 from 2016 to 2018 for being a plaintiff in his ADA lawsuits. The judge called the cases “frivolous” and “done without regard to the interests of those with disabilities.” In addition to ordering both men to pay a court-imposed penalty, Huck prohibited them from filing further ADA complaints in any state or federal court without permission and ordered the Florida Bar to investigate Dinin for misconduct in all his ADA cases.
According to KXAN News in Austin, Texas, Attorney Omar Rosales filed more than 380 federal ADA violation cases in 2015 and 2016 for plaintiff John Deutsch. In 2017, the Texas State Bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline suspended Rosales from practicing law in the Federal Western District of Texas for three years. The Bar accused him of misconduct for sending demand letters to healthcare providers across the state for having non-compliant websites and demanding $2,000 to settle. This August, the State of New York suspended Rosales for three years related to the Texas misconduct charges.
Carlson Lynch Sweet & Kilpela LLP
Since the Department of Justice removed website accessibility regulation from its agenda in December 2017, the number of ADA demand letters and lawsuits has continued to increase. The American Bankers Association’s (ABA) Banking Journal attributes this increase to the law firm Carlson Lynch Sweet & Kilpela LLP. The firm, which describes itself as the “go-to counsel” for disabled plaintiffs, began sending demand letters to banks for not having ADA-compliant websites and filed around 40 web accessibility cases in 2016 alone. The firm continues to file ADA lawsuits around the country.
The best way to safeguard yourself from being targeted by these and other ruthless attorneys is to ensure your bank website meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) requirements for ADA compliance. BankSITE® Services suggests you test your site using AudioEye’s free testing tool.
If you discover accessibility issues on your bank website or have the misfortune of receiving a demand letter for web accessibility, BankSITE® Services, along with its AudioEye, can ensure your site is certified ADA-compliant practically overnight.