[co-author: Susan Ryan]
Seyfarth Synopsis: ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal courts in a record year.
Regular readers will no doubt remember that 2020 was a (but barely) bad year for lawsuits filed in federal courts for alleged violations of Title III of the ADA. Our mid-year total was 4,751 due to lockdowns in April and May. That was the lowest mid-year value that we had seen since 2017.
But registrations increased in the second half of 2020, and they continued to increase in 2021. In March 2021, we recorded 1,240 registrations – more than ever before in a month. Our total for January 2021 through June 2021 is 6,304, which puts us on track to have 12,000 submissions this year. If 2020 taught us anything, it is that you shouldn’t count your chickens (or your ADA Title III filings) until they’re hatched (or submitted). A big downturn could be ahead. But here we are.
[Total Number of ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Filed Each Year January 1, 2013-June 30, 2021: 2013: 2,722; 2014: 4,436, 63% increase over 2013; 2015: 4,789, 8% increase over 2014; 2016: 6,601, 38% increase over 2015; 2017: 7,663, 16% increase over 2016; 2018: 10,163, 33% increase over 2017; 2019: 11,053, 9% increase over 2018; 2020: 10,982, 1% decrease from 2019; 2021: 6,304 as of 6/30/21]
Those numbers include Title III lawsuits filed for all reasons – physical facilities, websites and mobile applications, service animals, sign language interpreters, mask requirements, hotel reservations websites and more. These numbers don’t include the significant number of disability access lawsuits filed in state courts that are more difficult to prosecute or require letters that never lead to a lawsuit.
California led the way with 3,340 registrations, followed by New York (1,423) and Florida (609), which will come as no surprise to anyone. There are no surprises here either. Texas (179) and Nevada (122) rounded off the top 5 states in fourth place.
[Top 10 States with Federal ADA Title III Lawsuits Filed January 1, 2021-June 30, 2021: California: 3,340; New York: 1,423; Florida: 609; Texas: 179; Nevada: 122; Georgia: 85; Pennsylvania: 81; Illinois: 61; Tennessee: 51; Washington: 49]
It probably doesn’t make sense to compare 2021 to 2020 as it was such an unusual year (in many ways). So let’s take a look at 2021 versus 2019 for the top 5 states.
[Federal ADA Title III Lawsuits Filed Mid-Year in Top Five States 2019 Compared to 2021: California: 2019 Mid-Year: 2,444, 2021 Mid-Year: 3,340; New York: 2019 Mid-Year: 1,212, 2021 Mid-Year: 1,423; Florida: 2019 Mid-Year: 1,074, 2021 Mid-Year: 609; Texas: 2019 Mid-Year: 128, 2021 Mid-Year: 179; Nevada: 2019 Mid-Year: 126, 2021 Mid-Year: 122]
The total number of submissions increased by 11.2% from 2019 to 2021. California filings rose 26.8% from 2019 to 2021. New York filings were up 14.8%. Contrary to the trend, lawsuits in Florida dropped significantly from 2019 to 2021 – a 43.2% decrease.
Which cases are responsible for the dramatic change in these states? While we didn’t analyze the data, from the fall of 2020 to 2021, a law firm in southern California filed over five hundred lawsuits against hotel reservation websites that allegedly failed to provide adequate information about accessibility features in hotels in state court, most of which were moved to federal courts. We continue to see complaints about physical barriers to entry and website accessibility.
What is the end result for 2021? We predict that a new record will be set and that the number of lawsuits will exceed 12,000.
Our methodology: Our total number of ADA Title III complaints comes from the federal court’s logging system, PACER. However, since the area of law that covers ADA Title III cases also includes ADA Title II cases, our research department is reviewing the complaints to remove these cases from the count.