There were approximately 2,387 lawsuits filed over digital accessibility in 2022. This is a slight increase (1.5%) from 2021's total of 2,352 and an increase of over 14% from 2020. A company can no longer hide from a lack of digital accessibility, especially as more and more communication, commerce, and business take place online.
With the steadily-growing rise in lawsuits come the questions every business wants to know – where are these lawsuits being filed? What are the top states with accessibility lawsuits? Let’s find out where plaintiffs are suing.
The state with the most digital accessibility lawsuits is New York. One thousand six hundred sixty lawsuits were filed in New York in 2022, with 372 total filed by a New York law firm. There are numerous reasons why New York would have the highest number of digital accessibility lawsuits, starting with population.
New York City is the most populous city in the United States (8.4 million people) and is home to over 250,000 businesses. With that many people and companies, most of whom have websites, it’s only natural that accessibility issues would statistically happen to a New York City business due to the sheer number of companies with headquarters in New York state.
There’s also a high concentration of law firms in New York – especially in New York City – and New York also has special “damages” a plaintiff can recover, including compensatory damages. In other words, if an attorney can prove “pain and suffering,” the plaintiff can recover those costs if they file suit in New York.
Nearly 67% of all digital accessibility lawsuits were filed by just five law firms from New York and California. However, California only saw 126 suits in 2022, sliding from second to fourth place. This is likely due to the California Court of Appeals ruling in August 2022 that declared online-only businesses are not subject to the ADA.
Previously, plaintiffs were utilizing California’s Unruh Act for damages in digital accommodation suits, but with the Court of Appeals ruling, the Unruh Act is no longer applicable. The Act protects people from discrimination based on age, sex, ancestry, color, national origin, race, religion, orientation, or disability. Using the Unruh Act to rate websites is no longer allowed, meaning the $4,000 per violation damages no longer apply. This could contribute to California changing from second to fourth place in lawsuit filings.
However, a steady stream of cases still comes from California. California was second in the number of lawsuits in April of 2023, holding 23 percent of the total digital accessibility lawsuits. California is the most populous state in the United States, so there’s no chance of cases ceasing from that state anytime soon.
Florida & Pennsylvania
Florida saw 310 lawsuits in 2022, securing the number two position behind New York. Pennsylvania saw 216, giving it the number three position. Even in 2023, both states remain on the map: 3 percent of the lawsuits filed in April 2023 came from Florida, and one came from Pennsylvania.
Both Florida and Pennsylvania are likely popular filing choices because they are plaintiff-friendly. Florida had one of the country's most plaintiff-friendly damage rulings until Governor DeSantis signed comprehensive legal reforms into law on March 24, 2023. These changes include a shortened statute of limitations, a less favorable comparable fault standard, and significant reductions in damage awards. These sweeping changes may lead to fewer lawsuits in the state.
Similarly, Pennsylvania has very plaintiff-friendly monetary damage claims, including those for “pain and suffering.” As no changes to Pennsylvania's laws have been announced yet, it's possible that Pennsylvania may pick up where Florida left off if lawsuits decline there
Acheson v Laufer
One case that may change the output of accessibility lawsuits is the outcome of Acheson Hotels v Laufer. The Supreme Court will hear this case in October 2023. It is the case of an ADA “tester” – someone who tests websites for accessibility issues – versus a hotel. It will determine whether or not ADA testers have the right to sue over accessibility concerns or if courts should restrict lawsuits to those directly affected.
If the Supreme Court rules in Acheson’s favor and says testers do not have the right to sue, this means that the only people able to sue over accessibility are those directly affected. In this case, it would be someone trying to book a room that couldn’t because the hotel lacked accessibility. This may mean the number of lawsuits declines as testers cannot continue their work.
The number of lawsuits may increase sharply if the Supreme Court rules in Laufer's favor. Suits that were previously dismissed may be refiled, and many lawsuits awaiting the outcome of this decision may proceed. In any case, this ruling will significantly impact accessibility lawsuits.
In 2022, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California were the top four states with digital accessibility lawsuits. In 2023, all four states are still on the map, churning out cases. No change is expected in top lawsuit-filing states because of a combination of plaintiff-friendly laws, population numbers, and top law firms. As the numbers increase, so will the output from these states.