As 2021 was ending, our yearly analysis of the year that was in Website Accessibility Lawsuits was just beginning. We surveyed the year’s lawsuits to ascertain the number and nature of website accessibility suits filed this year, and when compared to previous years, 2021 was one for the books. 2021 saw a 14.3% increase in official filings from 2020, a jump that would indicate that website accessibility is facing more intense scrutiny, and with it, increased litigation. In compiling data points for our analysis, it’s important to keep in mind that our final tallies do not reflect lawsuits pertaining to physical or other accessibility issues, only cases where the actual functionality of the site with regard to accessibility was called into question.
With the full report now available, here are some key takeaways from our analysis of 2021.
All in all, 2021 saw 2,352 website accessibility lawsuits filed, up from 2,058 in 2020 and 2,260 in 2019. While 2020 was a bit of an anomalous year regarding court filings and proceedings, the increase from 2019 would indicate the uptick is in fact an ongoing trend. Further evidence of the upward trend is the number of suits filed just in the last quarter of 2021. October, November, and December of 2021 saw the highest total of website accessibility lawsuits for one quarter in our database’s history with 711 complaints filed during this time, comprising over 30% of filings for the whole year. This busy final stretch of the year, combined with an increase overall from 2019 and 2020, would indicate that there is an increasing awareness about the necessity of website accessibility and that individuals are turning to the legal justice system to affect the changes necessary for true accessibility.
Industries with the most complaints
Within this record-breaking year, at least one point of data remained the same, and that was the industry facing the most website accessibility lawsuits. Once again, the Consumer Goods, Services, and Retail category of industries took the top spot for complaints at 41% of the total. The Apparel, Durables, and Beauty category followed in a distant second place with a new dark horse entering the top five for the first time; Tech, Software, and Internet Services, with about 8% of total complaints.
Busiest plaintiffs, states, and law firms
When it comes to the busiest plaintiffs in website accessibility suits, even more records were broken in 2021. The top-filing plaintiffs filed more lawsuits in 2021 than their 2020 counterparts with this year’s top filer managing to file 139 lawsuits while the 2020s came in with only 94 total. This year’s top filers were so prolific, in fact, that the top five filers accounted for 22% of total filings.
Similarly, six law firms dominated in filing website accessibility complaints in 2021, with their combined suits accounting for about 56% of total filings. Among this very busy group of six firms, Pacific Trial Attorneys in California took the top spot with 340 filed cases total.
And in trends that are consistent from year to year, New York and California once again logged the most filings, likely due to the fact that those two states are home to the corporate headquarters for many national brands and have more favorable statutes for plaintiffs. New York accounted for more than 62% of all filings nationwide and California clocked in at about half that, but both states saw a significant increase from 2020.
An alarming trend in our data was the increase in lawsuits filed against companies using third-party overlays on their sites. Third-party overlays—or widgets, as they may be more commonly known—are overlaid on top of existing code to alter the user experience in some way. Because widgets are designed to simply fit on top of existing code, the result with their use is often that accessibility issues are not identified or addressed as efficiently as they could have been if the new code had been integrated manually, allowing for the accessibility of the new code to be tested and monitored.
Our analysis found that about 300 of 2021’s lawsuits involved companies who used third-party overlay coding on their sites, an increase from years past. With more sites with installed overlays facing litigation, it further calls into question the use of such coding when it comes to efficiently and effectively creating an accessible website and user experience.