Is it Beyoncé’s fault that some of her fans are blind? Is the performer a “public accommodation,” like a hotel, restaurant, or department store? Is it society’s obligation to rectify all misfortunes in life’s lottery? These questions may seem silly, but they lie at the heart of a cottage industry of abusive class-action litigation against websites pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a well-intentioned but poorly conceived—and horribly drafted—law that continues to generate unintended consequences decades following its passage in 1990. Computer users afflicted with various disabilities—blind consumers seem especially litigious—regularly sue companies hosting websites that allegedly aren’t sufficiently “accommodating” of their condition. Beyoncé and her website (beyonce.com), through her management company, became their latest target.
The federal court complaint naming Beyoncé, as is typical of this predatory genre, is a cookie-cutter document. Both the plaintiff and her lawyer are serial ADA litigants, sometimes referred to as “ADA trolls.” Given the lack of any fixed legal standard for “web accessibility,” almost any grievance involving the technical features of a website is litigable, and there is no shortage of contingent-fee lawyers eager to file suit. The principal requirement: a defendant with deep pockets. With 22 Grammy awards to her credit, the phenomenally successful Beyoncé qualifies. She and her husband, rapper Jay-Z, reportedly have a net worth over $1 billion.
Such lawsuits plague merchants engaged in e-commerce, even though the ADA was enacted before the advent of the Internet.
Friday, January 11, 2019
Paved With Good Intentions
I can't imagine that there's anyone who thinks that the motives behind the Americans With Disabilities Act are bad, that the intent wasn't a good one. We must always remember, though, that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and good intentions aren't sufficient to make good law: