Pacific Trial Attorneys Targets Bloggers: California Unruh Act

Just days before the 2021 New Year, I spoke with someone who had received a very brief demand letter from Pacific Trial Attorneys.

In 2020, I received several emails from people who had also received a demand letter from Pacific Trial Attorneys.  The claim being that their website discriminates against persons with disabilities.

Plaintiffs

Scott Ferrell is listed as the lawyer on the demand letters.

But Ferrell isn’t just sending demand letters, he’s filing lawsuits too.  Two common plaintiffs for the lawsuits are Rusty Rendon and Brittney Mejico.

Court

The Superior Court of The State of California for the County of Los Angeles is where I’ve seen lawsuits filed.

Law

Pacific Trial Attorneys typically is not relying on claims made under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but California’s Unruh Act, formally included as California Civil Code § 51 et seq.

The Unruh Act runs parallel to the ADA in terms of requiring non-discrimination but provide for plaintiffs to capture damages beyond attorney’s fees.

I’ve increasingly heard from not retailers, not restaurants, not banks but from bloggers with moderately successful blogs on WordPress (the platform does not matter, a website using any blogging or website builder platform can be sued).

As for as out-of-state defendants, in the lawsuits I looked at, only a very general rationale is provided:

“The Website is a “business establishment” within the meaning of the California Civil Code § 51 et seq. Defendant generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from the sale of its goods and services in California through the Website.”

Any entity should be proactive if they’re aware of web accessibility lawsuits but especially small business owners are they impacted disproportionately hard when they receive that ugliest of letters in the mail.

Damages Requested in Lawsuit

As I mentioned earlier, The Unruh Act is distinct from the Americans with Disabilities Act in that it allows for the recovery of damages.  In the prayer for relief, plaintiff, among other things asks for:

“An award of statutory minimum damages of $4,000 per violation pursuant to section 52(a) of the California Civil Code; however, Plaintiff expressly limits the total amount of recovery, including statutory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and cost of injunctive relief not to exceed $74,999…”

Pacific Trial Attorneys is very active in website accessibility litigation.  The best way to prevent a demand letter or lawsuit from any plaintiffs firm is to make your website conformant with WCAG 2.1 AA.

After litigation has been initiated most website accessibility cases end in settlement.

Services

If you need any assistance with web accessibility, feel free to contact me at kris@accessible.org.