MIAMI (Legal Newsline) - What’s it worth for plaintiffs attorneys suing companies over their websites on behalf of blind clients to take the case to trial? In the only example, those lawyers have been awarded more than $100,000 for their efforts.
Still, it’s unclear how much more will need to be spent now that the company has appealed a first-of-its-kind verdict against it. But that hasn’t stopped the plaintiff with the only trial victory from filing even more cases.
On Aug. 15, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola granted the unopposed motion of Entin & Della Fera of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Scott Dinin of Miami. The firms were requesting $105,000 for their representation of Juan Carlos Gil.
Two months earlier, Scola ruled for the plaintiff in his case against Winn-Dixie. Gil, who has filed more than 100 similar lawsuits, said Winn-Dixie’s website violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not utilizing technology that made it accessible for the blind.
“This case involved novel issues, the resolution of which had little or no precedent,” the attorneys’ motion for fees said.
“(A)n immense amount of legal research and analysis was required in order to determine the rights of the plaintiff and the responsibilities of the defendant under the ADA.”
Lawsuits like Gil’s have become popular in recent years as the Department of Justice has delayed formal regulations.
Those regulations, which will determine how to make a website compliant with the ADA, were first announced in 2010 but won’t be issued until at least 2018.
South Florida is among several jurisdictions that have seen plaintiffs lawyers use their courts to file these claims. Other popular jurisdictions include Western Pennsylvania, California and New York City.
Gil’s lawsuits are in Florida courts. Since his June 12 victory, he has filed 41 lawsuits, as of Sept. 25. A search of the federal court database shows Gil as the plaintiff in 108 lawsuits total since April 8, 2016.
Plaintiffs attorneys asked for a little more than $100,000 for their representation of Gil against Winn-Dixie. Dinin requested $54,024 for working 135 hours, an hourly rate of $400.
Attorneys at Entin & Della Fera asked for $45,855 for their combined 123 hours. Also granted were $5,392.06 in costs, which included transportation and a report on website accessibility from software testing company Equal Entry.
“Because of the extraordinary relief as compared to the settlements obtained by the Department of Justice as well as other similar cases, as well as the important and often neglected rights of the visually impaired community, Plaintiff believes that he is entitled to his attorneys fees and costs,” Gil’s attorneys wrote.
Winn-Dixie did not object to the amount of $105,271.06, but a stay of execution exists until the company’s appeal has concluded. It is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Scola’s ruling requires Gil’s lawyers and Winn-Dixie to help craft an injunction that outlines how and when the company will update its website.
Gil has several more cases still pending. He filed his first case against Cinepolis in April 2016, and his case against Winn-Dixie was the third he submitted.
On June 6, the second day of the Winn-Dixie trial, he filed three more cases.
Scola ordered the company to comply with what is considered the "de facto" standard - the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA drafted by accessibility experts.
Gil can’t see the screen of his computer but uses JAWS or other screen reader software that tells Gil the details of the site he is visiting. When he hits the tab and shift buttons, it tells him what he needs to type.
Gil uses the Winn-Dixie site to buy groceries and prescription drugs. He wants to use the websites to find coupons and refill prescriptions. Scola wrote that the company is building an ADA policy for its site but does not currently have one.
Chris Keroack, an employee of Equal Entry, estimated it would cost less than $37,000 for the company to update its site.
One of the main questions Scola was tasked with deciding was whether the website is a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA. Because the site is “heavily integrated” with Winn-Dixie’s stores, it is, Scola ruled.
Scola did not decide whether the website, absent that integration, is a place of public accommodation.
From Legal Newsline: Reach editor John O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.