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Wet Willie's Sign
Web developers and hosting companies may need to start worrying about demand letters and suits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if a Florida man has his way.

In a lawsuit filed in January 2018, plaintiff Juan Carlos Gil alleged that the website for bar chain Wet Willie’s was not accessible to individuals with disabilities, preventing him from viewing menus online before going to a physical location. In a novel twist, however, Gil sued not only Wet Willie’s itself, but also web developer and host The Sabre Solution, under the theory that it was the “creator and operator” of the Wet Willie’s website.

Web developers and hosting companies have until now largely avoided ADA litigation because they do not qualify as places of public accommodation under Title III of the law. Although courts have in recent years been divided over when ADA Title III applies to websites, prior suits have been against the owners—rather than the developers or hosts—of inaccessible sites. If Gil’s lawsuit succeeds, it could dramatically shift the responsibility of web developers to ensure that the sites they create and host are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The complaint describes Gil as “an athlete who travels for his athletic triathlon endeavors, and also is an advocate for the rights of blind and wheelchair bound disabled individuals (like himself),” and notes that he is actively involved with disability rights groups such as the National Federation for the Blind and the American Counsel for the Blind. Gil previously made waves by winning a lawsuit against Winn-Dixie over the grocery chain’s inaccessible website.

In their joint motion to dismiss, Wet Willie’s and The Sabre Solution note that Gil filed nearly 40 ADA suits in 2016 and 2017, containing broadly similar allegations, though this is not inconsistent with his description of himself as an advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.