A California blind man has won a disabled-rights case against a Colorado-based luggage retailer accused of failing to make its commercial website accessible to the visually impaired.
Lawyers for the plaintiff said the ruling broke new ground in an expanding litigation area.
Edward Davis last year sued Colorado Bag’n Baggage in California court claiming he couldn’t shop online for the retailer’s products because its website lacked features, like screen-reading software, for aiding the disabled. The suit claimed violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and a California anti-discrimination law.
Before any trial, the judge this week ruled for the plaintiff. Mr. Davis “presented sufficient evidence that he was denied full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, privileges, and accommodations offered by Defendant because of his disability,” wrote Judge Bryan F. Foster of San Bernardino Superior Court.
He ordered the retailer to make changes to its website and to pay $4,000. Lawyers for Mr. Davis are also entitled to attorneys’ fees, which they expect to exceed $100,000.
The lead counsel for the plaintiff told Law Blog that the ruling marked the first time in such a lawsuit that a court has entered a judgment in favor of a plaintiff over a defendant’s objections. “It’s pretty groundbreaking,” said Scott Ferrell, founding partner of litigation boutique Newport Trial Group.
Law Blog has sought comment from an attorney representing the retailer.
Such disability-rights cases have grown more common in the last couple of years.
As WSJ has reported, litigation in the area picked up steam in 2014 when the Department of Justice laid out a set of compliance standards for accessibility on commercial websites as part of a legal agreement with H&R Block Inc. in a case originally brought by the National Federation of the Blind.
Another turning point came in 2008 in a case against retailer Target Corp. when a federal district judge ruled that ADA applies to websites when they act as a gateway to a brick-and-mortar store. That case resulted in a $6 million settlement.
Crystal N. Skelton, a California attorney who advises clients in complying with disability laws, says companies can expect these lawsuits to continue.
“If you aren’t sure whether the ADA applies to your site or whether it’s accessible to the blind, now may be the time to find out,” she and a firm colleague wrote in a blog post about the case.