A federal court in Florida issued a potentially groundbreaking decision earlier this week that could open the floodgates when it comes to a new trend in litigation filed under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): the osurf-byo lawsuit. While businesses have been forced to deal with so-called drive-by lawsuits for some time now - those claims filed by plaintiffs who spot technical ADA violations such as inaccessible entrances by simply driving down the street - recent years have seen an explosion when it comes to the digital equivalent of such suits. Surf-by lawsuits, on the other hand, are initiated when someone simply logs onto your company's website to search for possible accessibility violations, and if any are found, follows through by filing an ADA lawsuit against you, sometimes without prior warning.
The June 13 decision from the Southern District of Florida decision paves the way for a new type of surf-by lawsuit, where an enterprising plaintiff or plaintiffs' attorney searches for technical ADA violations on your website regardless of whether any sales are conducted on the site. The troubling decision should motivate you to review your digital presence to ensure you comply with the latest ADA standards no matter what kinds of business is transacted on your website, if any at all (Gill v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.).
Website Visit Leads To Courtroom Battle
The eye-opening ruling stems from the website of a supermarket chain headquartered in Florida, Winn-Dixie Stores, which operates approximately 500 locations throughout the southeastern United States. The company does not sell any products on its website, but allows users to add coupons to their loyalty cards, find the nearest store, and refill prescriptions for in-store pick-up, among other things.
The visually impaired plaintiff visited the store's website and found it did not interface properly with his computer access technology software. He filed suit against the company under Title III of the ADA, complaining that he was deterred from shopping at the store because he could not review and select digital coupons (which were also provided in print form), could not easily locate a store on-line through the company's website (even though he could obtain that information from an accessible search engine), or refill his prescriptions online for in-store pick up.
The company argued that Title III only applied to physical obrick-and-mortaro locations and that there were no accessibility...