A new report by UsableNet found that plaintiffs filed more lawsuits in New York in 2023 than in any other state. However, since even businesses that aren’t in the state could face litigation if they do business there, every corporate leader needs to be paying attention. Not only are lawsuits themselves a risk, but also the issues and the accessibility barriers sparking these claims might be costing companies business.
Here are some takeaways from the report that demonstrate current trends in accessibility litigation for any business leaders interested in avoiding becoming a part of next year’s statistics.
Why New York Tops the List
The report states that in 2023, around three out of four of 4,605 web accessibility lawsuits across the US were filed in New York. That shocking number might have something to do with the state’s accessibility laws, which call for accessible online content and don’t require that a website be connected to a physical location for the laws to apply. In contrast, California courts decided that a company must have a physical location (like a retail shop) in the state for a plaintiff to file a successful web accessibility lawsuit in its courts.
Other factors contributing to the high number of cases in the state include a large population, plaintiffs’ firms that specialize in accessibility claims and a sympathetic judiciary. In other words, there are many potentially aggrieved parties, plenty of lawyers willing and able to represent them and courts that are likely to deliver favorable results.
Beyond New York, California — despite its less favorable laws — and Florida also experienced relatively high numbers of claims.
Businesses From Outside the State Face Lawsuits in New York
Since today’s retailers often do business beyond state borders, it’s possible for many companies that don’t consider themselves a “New York business” to face claims in the state. If a company does business within the state, plaintiffs can take them to court in New York. This means that a business based in a state with less favorable laws for plaintiffs may still face claims against them in New York’s courts.
In fact, the highest number of cases — 82% — fall into the category of e-commerce. That number shouldn’t be all that surprising because e-commerce sites tend to require more interaction, security measures and form-filling than other types of sites. Those features can make for more potential accessibility issues.
Web-based businesses are, therefore, some of the most likely to experience legal challenges for inaccessible websites and content and are also potentially at risk of lawsuits in many different jurisdictions. Education, healthcare and food services together account for many of the remaining 18% of web accessibility claims.
A Few Firms File the Majority of Cases
The report also indicated that there are just a handful of law firms that handle the bulk of the accessibility lawsuits. As many as 80% of federal ADA web accessibility lawsuits come from just ten plaintiffs’ firms and only 51 plaintiffs. On the other hand, 654 defense attorneys and hundreds of firms are representing the companies that face these claims.
While critics might argue that this “serial litigation” is unfair or disingenuous, laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) depend on such claims as a way of policing accessibility.
Web Accessibility Lawsuits Can Strike the Same Place Twice
Companies that faced web accessibility lawsuits in 2023 or prior years can’t sit back and think that because they’ve been struck once, they won’t face another case. The report found that more than 700 of the companies that faced earlier web-related ADA lawsuits were hit with another one in 2023.
Sometimes, the company might have faced a claim for their website followed by another one for an allegedly inaccessible mobile app. Other times, a new plaintiff might file a claim against a company that someone else sued in the past. Also, some plaintiffs took aim at parent or sister companies. The result is that no company should feel immune to a web-related accessibility lawsuit, even if they just settled one.
Websites Remain the Focus Despite Rise in Mobile Devices and Apps
Another interesting statistic is that 97% of web accessibility lawsuits involve barriers related to desktop sites. This finding is somewhat surprising as 55% of internet traffic now happens on mobile devices. Also, about 85% of shoppers prefer using mobile apps to make purchases over websites.
Automated Tools Aren’t Saving Companies from Lawsuits
In recent years, artificial intelligence has come a long way. It’s likely that with such developments, automated accessibility checkers will improve. However, businesses today are learning the hard way that using an automated web accessibility overlay widget isn’t enough to remove barriers and prevent lawsuits.
Last year saw a 62% rise in lawsuits against businesses that used such tools. The clear takeaway from this part of the report is that companies need to continue using or start using manual testing techniques. Hiring people with disabilities to check sites for potential flaws is still one of the best ways to identify barriers before they lead to litigation.
It’s likely that New York will remain the leader in accessibility lawsuits in 2024. However, it’s important to remember that just because a business isn’t technically located in New York, doesn’t mean that it won’t face a lawsuit there. Rather than relying on luck to avoid becoming the target of one of these claims, business leaders need to invest in audits, manual checks and professional accessibility tools to improve their online content.
Accessibility Journeys Are Better with Partners
While web accessibility litigation will likely continue to increase, there are steps that businesses can take to reduce the risk of becoming a target. Partnering with an accessibility provider that offers professional, quality solutions is one way for companies to protect themselves.
Verbit helps businesses around the world improve the accessibility of their websites, events, online content and more. Reach out to learn how our solutions, like captions, transcription, audio description and translation can make your company more inclusive.