Supreme Court to Rule on Legal Standing of Civil Rights Testers in ADA Case

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A legal case with major ramifications on how websites are built for compliance with the ADA (American Disabilities Act) laws has made its way to the Supreme Court.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether a civil rights “tester” has the legal standing to bring a lawsuit against a hotel for failing to provide sufficient accessibility information for people with disabilities, even if the “tester” has no plans to visit the hotel in question.

What is a Tester?

A “tester” is someone with disabilities who tests various websites to look for ADA compliance issues & files lawsuits against websites that are not compliant.

Enter the case of Acheson Hotels v. Laufer.

Deborah Laufer, a plaintiff who has initiated close to 600 lawsuits against hotels in the United States, is invoking ADA laws, which mandate that hotels provide accessibility information for individuals with disabilities on reservation platforms, is a “tester.” Laufer, who has physical disabilities and visual impairments, filed a case in a federal court in Maine, claiming that Acheson Hotels’ website for an inn in that state lacked adequate information about the accommodations it offers for individuals with disabilities.

The district court dismissed Laufer’s case, finding that she lacked standing because she had no plans to visit the hotel and therefore was not injured by the lack of information. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit reinstated Laufer’s lawsuit, leading Acheson Hotels to appeal to the Supreme Court.

What Are the Potential Implications of This ADA Compliance Case?

The outcome of the “tester” case could have significant consequences for website owners. If the Supreme Court determines that testers cannot file lawsuits, businesses may become less apprehensive about the possibility of being bombarded with ADA litigation over minor website issues. With this outcome, it will be interesting to see if the scope of who is able to file ADA compliance lawsuits, or how many they can file, will affect the river of ADA compliance lawsuits which are currently filed on a yearly basis.

Conversely, the ADA law does not appear to consider the intent of the disabled user whose experience is being discriminated against by non-compliant websites, which means that the court could decide in favor of testers being able to sue despite having no intention of using the service, as long as the website remains non-compliant. With this precedent being set, it could potentially encourage more “testers” to start filing lawsuits against non-compliant websites, opening the floodgates of ADA compliance lawsuits against websites.

Could the ruling lead to a proliferation of “uninjured plaintiffs” launching ADA lawsuits with dubious merit and leveraging attorney fees as a bargaining tool for extracting settlement payments? Only time will tell. The justices are expected to hear the case’s arguments this autumn, and a ruling is likely to be issued sometime in 2024.

Learn More About ADA Compliance from Industry Experts

Are you looking for more information on ADA laws & how you can keep your site compliant? Visit our ADA compliance guide to read about a number of topics, such as the main elements of WCAG, A – AAA levels of website accessibility ratings, and an ADA compliance checklist that will help your site stay compliant.

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