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FEDERAL COURT ISSUES FIRST VERDICT FINDING THAT INACCESSIBLE WEBSITES VIOLATE TITLE III OF ADA

On June 13, 2017, a Florida federal district court issued the first verdict of its kind holding that a website that was inaccessible to a blind customer violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The case, Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.,  concerned a blind man who could not access Winn-Dixie coupons, order prescriptions, or find store locations on the company’s website.  After a full trial, the Court ordered injunctive relief, requiring Winn-Dixie to modify its website and pay the plaintiff’s attorneys fees and costs.

Although the decision is non-binding, it has significant implications.  First, it is the first case of its kind concluding that an inaccessible website violated Title III of the ADA.  Businesses should carefully consider whether to litigate or settle these forms of cases, as the possibility of an adverse verdict – once thought unlikely amongst business and legal communities – has now become a reality.   Second, the draft injunction adopts the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the applicable standard in determining a website’s accessibility.  These guidelines were developed by a private group of  experts and have been incorporated into many consent decrees and settlement agreements. The guidelines have not been adopted as the legal standard for public accommodation websites, but businesses should remain aware of their increasing relevance, especially in light of this decision. Third, the Court did not consider the $250,000 cost of updating the website to be an undue burden to Winn-Dixie, considering that the company had previously invested $9 million to create and remake its website. This cost comparison is likely to be emulated in later cases.

Of particular note, the Court held Winn-Dixie responsible for the entire website’s lack of accessibility, even though parts of the website are operated by third party vendors.  This implication bears particular relevance to businesses who extensively rely on outside vendors to provide services offered through their website.

Although there are not yet any federal regulations setting forth requirements for a website accessibility program, businesses should remind mindful of judicial decisions such as this one because they provide potential frameworks for Title III compliance.  For additional questions regarding this case or compliance with Title III of the ADA, please contact a Mitzel Group specialist.