State of Accessibility Lawsuits in E-Commerce Platforms

March 12, 2024

In recent years, the digital landscape has witnessed a surge in accessibility lawsuits, highlighting the crucial need for websites and online platforms to be inclusive for all users, including those with disabilities. From high-profile cases involving major retailers and universities to smaller businesses, these legal battles emphasize the importance of adhering to accessibility standards. These lawsuits not only serve as a wake-up call for organizations to prioritize digital inclusivity but also underscore the legal and ethical obligations to ensure that the digital world is accessible to everyone. 

This article will talk about some accessibility lawsuits that have affected e-commerce platforms, its impact, and what we can learn about the importance of creating accessible experiences on e-commerce platforms.

Some Famous Accessibility Lawsuits

Robles v. Domino’s Pizza LLC

The Robles v. Domino's Pizza LLC case has become a pivotal point in the discussion of digital accessibility in the United States. On 2016, Guillermo Robles, who is visually impaired, filed a lawsuit claiming Domino's website and app were not compatible with his screen-reading software, violating the ADA. On October 7, 2019 The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals supported Robles' argument, ruling that the ADA's scope includes the online services of businesses with physical premises. Despite Domino's push for the Supreme Court to consider the case, the Supreme Court declined, leaving the Ninth Circuit's decision intact.

This outcome reinforced the need for accessible digital platforms and set a precedent that online services should provide equal access for individuals with disabilities, consistent with ADA standards, while also serving as a cautionary tale for other businesses and prompting many to prioritize accessibility. The case emphasizes the broader implications for businesses regarding digital accessibility and the necessity for clear accessibility guidelines.

Mendizabal vs Nike Inc

The lawsuit Mendizabal v. Nike, Inc. brings to the forefront the issue of web accessibility for visually impaired individuals. Filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Victor Mendizabal, who is visually impaired, presented the case as a challenge to Nike's website which was not fully navigable using screen reading technology. The complaint against Nike highlighted specific accessibility barriers, such as missing alt text for images which screen readers need to describe visual content, links without descriptive text which are necessary for understanding link destinations, and multiple links leading to the same destination which can be confusing for users relying on assistive technologies.

The case reflects a larger movement toward improving digital access for people with disabilities, stressing that websites and mobile applications should be designed to be fully inclusive. While it may not have gained the same level of publicity as the Domino's case, Mendizabal v. Nike, Inc. remains significant. It reinforces the message that businesses with substantial online operations have a legal responsibility to consider accessibility in their digital offerings.

National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation

The case of the National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation was a landmark moment in the advancement of digital accessibility standards. On February 2006, The National Federation of the Blind brought forth the lawsuit, claiming Target's website was not accessible to users who are blind. The legal argument was rooted in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the crux was that had failed to remove barriers that hindered blind individuals from having equal access to the services and goods provided on the site, comparable to Target's physical stores.

The significance of the case lies in its challenge to the notion that the ADA only applies to physical spaces. The court's decision to let the case proceed in 2006 signaled an expansion of the ADA's scope to include digital spaces, particularly when connected to physical retail operations. The lawsuit concluded with Target's agreement to settle in August 2008, which included a compensation fund of 6 million dollars and a commitment to making and keeping their website accessible to blind users. This settlement and the actions taken by Target post-litigation have since influenced how businesses approach web accessibility, emphasizing the importance of ensuring their digital platforms are navigable and usable by all customers.

Accessibility Lawsuits in E-Commerce Sites

In 2023, the digital landscape for accessibility lawsuits, particularly concerning e-commerce, has seen notable trends and developments. According to UsableNet, there were over 4,500 federal and state-filed ADA-related digital lawsuits, marking an increase of about 500 cases from the previous year. These statistics do not include demand letter that were settled without litigation. This suggests a growing enforcement of digital accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A significant trend observed is the targeting of companies with previous ADA lawsuits. Over 1,000 lawsuits were filed against companies that had faced litigation in the past three years, underscoring the importance of immediate and comprehensive action upon receiving an ADA digital lawsuit.

New York has emerged as a primary jurisdiction for these lawsuits, with a majority filed there due to its favorable legal environment for plaintiffs. This is attributed to the lack of a physical space or nexus requirement for ADA claims in New York, unlike in California​.

E-commerce sites are particularly vulnerable, with around 82% of accessibility lawsuits targeting this sector according to UsableNet. The complexity of e-commerce websites, frequent updates, and the sheer volume of businesses operating online contribute to this focus​.

Another relevant report on this topic is The WebAIM Million report in 2023, where it took one million pages and ran automatic accessibility tests to give a general picture about the state of web accessibility. Something to highlight is the results this report gives us about e-commerce platforms. 

Ecommerce Platforms
Platform # of home pages Avg. # of errors
Squarespace 7,671 18.9
Shopify 24,647 52.0
Woocommerce 44,586 62.5
Magento 6,246 81.2

As we observe the landscape in 2023, the increasing number of lawsuits, especially against e-commerce platforms, underscores the urgency of this issue. It's a call to action for businesses to not only adhere to legal standards but to champion accessibility as a core value

Wrapping Up

At Zenyth, we're passionate about making the digital world accessible to everyone, and recent trends in accessibility lawsuits have only heightened our commitment. From high-profile cases like Domino's Pizza to ongoing challenges faced by companies like Nike and Target, the message is clear: digital inclusivity is not optional; it's essential.

At Zenyth, we see this as an opportunity to lead by example. We're dedicated to helping our clients create accessible digital experiences, not just to mitigate legal risks but to foster a more inclusive internet. After all, enhancing accessibility is about building a digital world that welcomes everyone, with no exceptions. Let's work together to make digital accessibility a priority!

Share this post