New York’s federal courts saw 1,471 lawsuits filed in 2018 aimed at websites that plaintiffs claim are not American with Disabilities Act accessible, accounting for 64 percent of the 2,285 ADA website accessibility lawsuits launched in seven major states tracked by the company UsableNet Inc.
The company, which helps businesses design and build accessible websites, also reported in its 2018 lawsuit recap that the 2,285 suits represent a near-threefold increase over the 814 such cases filed in the same seven states—New York, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and Georgia—in 2017.
The company’s research team monitors major accessibility-related ADA lawsuits in major jurisdictions. It also reported that such federal suits filed in Florida accounted for 32 percent of the 2,285 total—meaning that New York’s and Florida’s federal courts see a total of 96 percent of them.
Moreover, the recap report said, New York state is home to companies that have been sued in 25 percent of all such lawsuits.
The ADA website accessibility area of litigation is growing rapidly, and tort-reform groups, and even UsableNet—whose business is helped by increased litigation—have criticized what they see as a plaintiffs-lawyer-driven glut of suits often geared toward collecting attorney fees.
Under New York law, for instance, damages for such cases are capped at $500, but there is no limit on attorney fees, according to a New York Daily News report from September.
But Joseph Mizrahi of Brooklyn-based law firm Cohen & Mizrahi, which according to the UsableNet report is the leader among 10 firms filing the bulk of the suits, defended the need for the litigation in a Law Journal interview Thursday. The Daily News report in September noted that he had filed 411 different ADA accessibility lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of 13 visually impaired people, often charging that businesses’ sites are not compatible with screen-reading programs for the visually impaired.
“We have many clients and over the course of their lives they have visited many websites that they cannot access, and they want to enjoy the internet just like anybody else does,” he said. He added that the ADA statute “allows for attorney fees, [and] there is a lot of work that goes into preparing, litigating and monitoring compliance.”
“So which attorney is going to work for free?” he said, rhetorically.
The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, which lobbies for reform in New York aimed at stopping what it claims are frivolous plaintiffs-side suits, said in a statement Thursday that “at the moment there are no real legal standards for website accessibility, and the [U.S.] Department of Justice has yet to provide clear guidelines, so almost any website could become the target of a lawsuit. Such suits can be devastating to family owned businesses, like New York’s farm wineries which have been hit with these lawsuits in recent months.”
An organization spokesman added that the majority of the federal suits filed in New York are in the Southern and Eastern Districts.