The Pandemic Slowed 2020 Federal ADA Title III Filings But 2021 May Be a Record Breaker

Seyfarth Shaw LLP

[co-author: Susan Ryan]

Seyfarth Synopsis: ADA Title III lawsuits filed in 2020 fell slightly from last year’s high, but still topped 10,000 for the second time since we started tracking these lawsuits in 2013.

Maybe it was adjusting to working from home, overseeing children during the work day, or just the shock of the pandemic, but the ADA Title III plaintiffs’ bar filed far fewer lawsuits in April and May 2020.  This ultimately led to an overall reduction in the number of cases filed in 2020 as compared to 2019.

Plaintiffs filed 10,982 ADA Title III lawsuits in 2020, compared to 11,053 filed in 2019. That’s a reduction of less than 1%.  Considering that the country was gripped by a pandemic for much of 2020, this is still quite a large number of lawsuits.

[Total Number of ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Filed Each Year January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2021: 2013:  2,722; 2014: 4,436 63% increase over 2013; 2015: 4,789 8% increase over 2014; 2016: 6,601 38% increase over 2015; 2017: 7,663 16% increase over 2016; 2018: 10,163 33% increase over 2017; 2019: 11, 053 9% increase over 2018; 2020: 10,982 1% decrease from 2019]

The months of April and May saw a steep decline in filings (572 and 538 respectively), but they rebounded quickly in June, with 857 filings.

[Total Number of Federal ADA Title III Lawsuits Filed Per Month January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020: January: 971; February: 927; March: 886; April: 572; May: 538; June: 857; July: 954; August: 1,079; September: 1,049; October: 1,072;  November: 983; December: 1,094]

These numbers include Title III lawsuits filed on all grounds — physical facilities, websites and mobile applications, service animals, Braille Gift cards, sign language interpreters, mask-wearing requirements, hotel reservations websites, and more.  These numbers do not include the significant number of disability access lawsuits filed in state courts which are more difficult to accurately track.

In what should be a surprise to no one, California had the most federal filings – 5,869.  New York landed in second place, with 2,238, and Florida was third, with 1,208.  California broke its record for lawsuits by a staggering 22%.  New York and Florida saw decreases in their numbers; New York was down slightly, but Florida had the lowest number of filings since 2013.

[California, New York, Florida ADA Tile III Federal Lawsuits 2013-2020: California: 2013: 995; 2014 1,866; 2015: 1,659; 2016: 2,458; 2017: 2,751; 2018: 4,249; 2019: 4,794; 2020: 5,869; Florida: 2013: 816; 2014: 1,553; 2015: 1,338; 2016:1,663; 2017: 1,488; 2018: 1,941; 2019: 1,885; 2020: 1,208; New York: 2013: 125; 2014: 212; 2015: 366; 2016: 543; 2017: 1,023; 2018: 2,338; 2019: 2,635; 2020: 2,238]

Texas and Georgia rounded out the top five, with 285 and 240 filings, respectively.  Texas regained 4th place from Georgia, increasing from 239 to 285 filings in 2020.  Georgia decreased slightly in 2020 from 243 to 240.

[Top 10 States with Federal ADA Title III Lawsuits Filed January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020: California: 5, 869; New York: 2,238; Florida: 1,208; Texas: 285; Georgia: 240; Illinois: 172; Pennsylvania: 163; Colorado: 132; New Jersey: 70; Massachusetts: 66]

Other states with more than 100 filings included Illinois (172), Pennsylvania (163) and Colorado (132).  Illinois and Pennsylvania traded places from 2019, and Colorado surpassed New Jersey, increasing by a healthy margin over its 81 cases in 2019.

For a more in depth look at the types of cases driving these numbers, see our year end roundup post.

What do we think will happen in 2021?  As we predicted in early January, 2021 is shaping up to be a very busy year.  In January 2021, 1,108 cases were filed – the most ever in a single month.  To provide some perspective, in 2013, there were 2,722 filings for the entire year.  If the filings continue at their current rate, 2021 will be another record-breaking year for ADA Title III filings in federal court.

A note on our methodology: Our research involved a painstaking manual process of going through all federal cases that were coded as “ADA-Other” and manually culling out the ADA Title II cases in which the defendants are state and local governments.  The manual process means there is the small possibility of human error.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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