More than 100 nearly identical class action lawsuits alleging noncompliance with Americans with Disability Act accessibility standards for ATM machines have been filed against banks and credit unions since new standards went into effect in March 2012. The ADA requires ATMs to have certain accessibility features allowing visually impaired individuals to use the machines independently and with privacy.
A recent decision demonstrates that these lawsuits may not be easy to dismiss. On October 16, a federal judge in Georgia denied a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit alleging that the defendant bank failed to meet ADA standards for making its ATM machines accessible to the plaintiff and other visually impaired consumers. Thomas v. Branch Banking and Trust Co., No. 13-CV-00656 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 16, 2013). The defendant made a facial (as opposed to factual) attack on the plaintiff's standing and argued that the plaintiff failed to allege a real and immediate threat of future injury. The Georgia court held that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged individual standing by pleading that she lives in close proximity to the allegedly noncompliant ATMs, used the ATMs in the past, plans to return to the ATMs in the future and frequently travels in the area where the ATMs are located. The court indicated that class standing issues would not be addressed until later in the litigation.
The ADA requires financial institutions and other businesses housing ATM machines to ensure that at least one ATM in each location offers voice guidance, Braille instructions, keys with tactile buttons and other features for the visually impaired. The complete ADA Standards for Accessible Design are available here.
Failure to comply with the ADA standards for ATMs can be costly for defendants. The Department of Justice may impose civil penalties up to $55,000 for a first violation and $110,000 for subsequent violations. Individual plaintiffs can recover injunctive relief, compensatory damages and attorney's fees.