By Kristina M. Launey & Minh N. Vu
Seyfarth Synopsis: Plaintiffs filed 3,225 website accessibility lawsuits in federal court in 2022 – a 12% increase over 2021.
2022 was another record setting year for website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court. The total number of lawsuits filed in federal court alleging that plaintiffs with a disability could not use websites because they were not designed to be accessible and/or work with assistive technologies in 2022 was 3,255–360 more than 2021. This 12% increase in the number of lawsuits in 2022 is just slightly lower than the 14% 2021 increase, and matches the 12% increase we saw in 2020. While these numbers pale by comparison to the explosion of cases we saw from 2017 to 2018 (an increase of 177%), the continued year-over-year increases are still very significant.
Especially striking is the fact that, based on our soon-to-be-released overall 2022 ADA Title III lawsuit numbers, these website accessibility lawsuits made up a whopping 37% of the ADA Title III lawsuits filed in 2022, up from roughly 25% in 2021.
The first half of 2022 saw a steady climb from 210 in January to 383 in March, a dip to 164 in April, then spikes at 412 and 448 in May and June. The monthly numbers were more consistent at between 232-273 in July through October, with a dip to 163 in November, before a December finish of 201.
New York, Florida, and California federal courts continued to be the busiest by far, with Florida regaining the #2 spot and Pennsylvania besting California for the #3 spot. New York federal courts continued to be bombarded with lawsuits, totaling 2,560 lawsuits in 2022 (continuing an upward trend from 2,074 in 2021, 1,694 in 2020, 1,354 in 2019, and 1,564 in 2018). Florida was a distant second with 310 lawsuits. California federal courts saw only 126 lawsuits in 2022 (halting the prior upward trend of 359 in 2021, 223 in 2020, 120 in 2019, and 10 in 2018), as shown in the chart below. Pennsylvania passed the 200 mark at 216 in 2022, materially up from 167 lawsuits filed in 2021 and 173 in 2020. Illinois retained the #5 spot with 19 suits—considerably fewer than its 34 in 2021 and 32 in 2020 and 91 in 2019). Connecticut and Indiana remained in the top 10 with relatively meager numbers at 5 and 2, respectively, and newcomers Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Minnesota beat out Oregon and Wisconsin for the final 3 top 10 spots, with 13, 3, and 1 filings, respectively.
If you’re wondering why California has so few website accessibility cases relative to New York, it is likely because New York courts have been more favorable toward plaintiffs, especially when the defendant is an online-only business. Whether online only businesses are covered by the ADA remains unanswered by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; however, with a few exceptions, district court judges in New York that have addressed the issue have found that online only businesses are covered by the ADA.
In contrast, in California, both federal and state courts of appeals have reached the conclusion that online only businesses are not covered by the ADA, making it much more difficult (if not impossible) for plaintiffs to sue online-only businesses for accessibility violations. Thus, we predict fewer website accessibility cases in both California state and federal courts in the future.
These numbers do not account for the many demand letters sent out by law firms which never result in lawsuits, as well as lawsuits filed in state courts (mostly in California) which are more difficult to track. These numbers also do not include lawsuits filed alleging that a mobile app is inaccessible, unless the lawsuit also alleged an inaccessible website.
Will the Title II rulemaking effort slated to start in 2023 make a difference in the 2023 lawsuit count? Unlikely, as that process can take a significant amount of time, and only would apply to state and local governments under Title II and not private businesses. While a Title III rulemaking could follow, it is highly unlikely to be completed by the end of this Presidential term.
About our methodology: Our 2022 numbers are based on searches using keywords of data from the Courthouse News Services. Thus, it is possible that there are some website accessibility cases that were not captured in the searches if their descriptions did not include the keywords. We then review the thousands of entries manually to remove lawsuits that may be about websites but are not about a website’s accessibility to a user with a disability. For example, there were a number of lawsuits in 2018-2021 (a very large explosion of such suits in 2021 in California) brought by plaintiffs with mobility disabilities alleging that the reservations websites of hotels did not provide adequate information about the accessibility of hotel facilities.