By Minh Vu, Kristina Launey, and Susan Ryan
Seyfarth Synopsis: Data from the first six months of 2019 shows a 12% increase over 2018.
The task of counting the number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal courts grows with the ever-increasing numbers of lawsuits. For the period from January 1, 2019 through June 30, 2019, our research team counted 5,592 ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal court, versus 4,965 filed in first six months of 2018. That’s a 12% increase.
If the lawsuits continue continue to be filed at the current rate, the number of federal ADA Title III lawsuits filed in 2019 will top 11,000 and it will be yet another record breaking year.
[Graph: ADA Title III Lawsuits in Federal Court Jan. 2014 – Jun. 2019: 2014: 4,436; 2015: 4,789, 8% increase over 2014; 2016: 6,601, 37% increase over 2015; 2017: 7,663, 16% increase over 2016; 2018: 10,163, 33% increase over 2017; 2019: Total: 5,592, as of 6/30/19, Projected Total: 11,184, 10% increase over 2018]
California continues to lead the country with 2,444 federal ADA Title III lawsuits in the first six months of 2019, with New York trailing far behind with 1,212 such suits. Florida is a close third with 1,074 federal suits. California continues to be a very popular jurisdiction because plaintiffs can add on a state law Unruh Act claim which provides for $4,000 in statutory damages for each incident of discrimination. This statutory damages provision gives prevailing plaintiffs an automatic payment so they do not even need to prove that they incurred any actual damages, unless they want to recover more. The 2,444 California federal ADA Title III lawsuit number does not capture the complete picture of disability access suits filed in California because many more access suits are filed in state court, which we do not track.
This holds true in other states as well, but, as we know anecdotally, it would still not put any other states anywhere near California in the number of disability access lawsuits filed in state and federal courts. Few other states allow recovery of statutory damages for disability access claims; while Title III only allows recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs in addition to injunctive relief. In stark contrast to California, the federal courts in Idaho, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Vermont have seen no ADA Title III lawsuits this year.
[Graph: Top 10 States for ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Jan. 2019 – Jun. 2019: CA 2,444, NY 1,212, FL 1,074, GA 128, TX 126, PA 71, NJ 66, IL 63, MA 55, MI 36]
What are these lawsuits about? Based on the many cases we see in our practice, most cases concern allegedly inaccessible physical facilities or websites. However, there have also been a number of lawsuits claiming that hotels are not putting information about the accessibility of their physical facilities on their reservations websites as required by the ADA regulations, and some lawsuits regarding service animals and sign language interpreters.
Businesses feeling under siege are not likely to see relief any time soon. Attempts to curb this lawsuit tsunami through federal legislation such as the ADA Education and Reform Act passed by the House last year have seen no progress.
Our Methodology: Our overall ADA Title III lawsuit numbers come from the federal court’s docketing system, PACER. However, because the area of law code that covers ADA Title III cases also includes ADA Title II cases, our research department reviews the complaints to remove those cases from the count.