July 07, 2021
Area(s) of Interest: California Physician's Legal Handbook
The law regarding compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be complicated and difficult for physicians to navigate. However, it is increasingly important that physicians be aware of relevant laws, regulations, and guidelines to avoid being implicated in a lawsuit for unknowingly failing to comply with the ADA.
The California Medical Association (CMA) has received reports that small and solo medical practices, especially in Southern California, have been sued for alleged violations of the ADA and the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
The ADA requires physicians to accommodate people with disabilities. The Unruh Civil Rights Act is the California law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination and makes it illegal to violate the ADA.
The recent surge of lawsuits relates almost exclusively to websites containing videos that lack closed captioning. While the law in California is supposed to encourage business owners to make upgrades and improvements to better serve individuals with disabilities without the expense of protracted litigation, the Unruh Civil Rights Act imposes a minimum-damages award of $4000 dollars plus reasonable attorney’s fees. In other words, even physicians who act in good faith to quickly rectify potential ADA violations can face tens of thousands of dollars in financial harm.
The ADA and the Unruh Civil Rights Act are silent on the issue of online website compliance. However, California courts have extended the law to cover accessibility of websites and have imposed liability for non-compliance if a website does not accommodate individuals with disabilities. While statutory law does not offer set guidelines for website compliance, many organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines can serve as a useful reference point for businesses looking to improve their digital accessibility.
Physicians with specific questions regarding compliance with these complex laws and those who have received demands or been served with a complaint should notify their insurance carriers and contact an attorney immediately.
CMA is currently tracking these cases. If you recently received an ADA lawsuit, please notify CMA’s Legal Information Line at (800) 786-4262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act, see the “ADA/Discrimination” chapter in CMA’s online health law library. Access to CMA’s Health Law Library is free for members. Nonmembers can purchase documents for $2 per page at cmadocs.org/health-law-library