Claim scenario: Websites and ADA compliance

December 21, 2022

Our agency writes a fair number of insurance policies for marinas and boat dealers. Generally, there are some specialty coverages associated with the class of business (e.g., protection and indemnity, “bumbershoot,” marine operators legal liability, and dock coverage).

Believe it or not, this claim stemmed from a boat dealer’s website—and for a reason no one foresaw.

At first review, the boat dealer’s website was generic. Usually, when we review a client’s website, we scan for content that embellishes areas of practice that could be troublesome in the underwriting process. This site was about what you’d expect from a boat dealer—it included the dealer’s inventory, the business’s branding, etc. Nothing about shipping space shuttles or shooting fireworks from a barge, so we were good, right?

Wrong.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Our client received a demand letter from a plaintiff, a blind man, who alleged that the boat dealer’s website wasn’t compatible with the software he uses to read websites. Further, the letter stated that the defendant (our client) had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not making the site accessible for the blind.

As I’m sure all agents have experienced, the take-up rate for cyber liability policies is lower than it should be—particularly with clients who don’t have a large amount of computer-centric workflow.

However, even if the client had purchased a generic cyber insurance policy, we learned that this type of claim is a media-liability related claim, so that policy would have had to cover that exposure.

As it was, the plaintiff attorney told our client if it settled for $5,000, that the lawsuit would be withdrawn.

Compliance

It’s important to remember, that every website should be compatible with text-to-speech software. The ADA doesn’t delineate which industries do or do not have to comply with the law.

We later learned that the plaintiff attorney had filed dozens of these lawsuits across the state, mostly with the same plaintiff, but some with other individuals with a similar disability.

While these lawsuits are necessary to raise awareness and to ensure that everyone has equal access to information on the internet—they also can be an easy was for lawyers and their clients to make some money. Whatever the rationale, the client paid the attorney $5,000 and it received a release letter.

Best practices

In response to the lawsuit, we sent correspondence to our entire commercial-customer base, explaining the claim scenario, and advising them to direct their website vendor to review the ADA website, and its checklist for ADA compliance.

The list of things to be on the lookout for helping a business with risk management is seemingly infinite. Our internal checklists already are cumbersome, and we seem to be adding to it regularly. However, it’s a best practice that can help our clients in the long run, and it helps to highlight the value we offer those who choose to work with an independent insurance agent.

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About the author…

Andy Harris Jr.

Andrew Harris Jr., CIC, AAI, CISR, is president of Liberty Insurance Associates Inc., in Millstone Township, N.J.  Active in PIA of New Jersey, he has served as an officer since 2019, and as a director for several years. Additionally, he is the current vice president, presiding over the PIANJ’s committees of Business Issues and Communications. He also is a member of the association’s Executive/Budget & Finance; and PIANJ Political Action Governing committees. Harris is a member of NJ Agents Justice Task Force. In 2018, Harris was named PIANJ’s Director of the Year, and in 2019 was named PIA National’s Agent of the Year. The awards recognized his hard work and dedication to the association’s board of directors, and his time, talent, and support of the association and its many programs. He was active in PIANJ’s New Jersey Young Insurance Professionals—an organization dedicated to the professional and personal growth of newcomers to the insurance industry. He has also co-chaired the Special Olympics Golf Committee. In his community, Harris is an avid supporter of IEP Youth Services in Freehold, N.J. where he is the vice chair of the Board of Trustees, while both he and Liberty are involved in many other local and national charities through their sub-brand “Project Torchlight,” which is responsible for Liberty’s charitable endeavors.

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