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Tauler Smith LLP – ADA Website Demand Letters

The Karlin Law Firm LLP defends these claims and also works with businesses, website owners, web developers and webmasters to bring websites into compliance in a way that will avoid ADA violations claims. Web developers will often focus on WCAG 2.0 or WCAG 2.1, but much more needs to be addressed, and knowledge and experience in the current state of the law are critical to protect businesses, which needs to be explained to the web developer working on a website. The Karlin Law Firm LLP has resolved and consulted on over 4,000 ADA cases, half of which are now website lawsuits and cases. We defend and provide the needed guidance in website compliance.

Here is an example of a letter below:

VIA FEDEX

Your Company

Attn: Legal Dept.

123 Main St.

City, State, Zip Code

Re:  Drew Hunthausen v. (Your Company) – Violations of the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civ. Code. §§ 51, et seq.)

To Whom It May Concern:

This firm represents Drew Hunthausen, a legally blind California Consumer. We are sending this letter because (Your company name) does not provide adequate safety warnings for blind consumers. This is a violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which guarantees every person in California “full and equal” access to “all business establishments of every kind whatsover” and imposes a duty on business establishments to serve all persons without arbitrary discrimination. See Cal. Civ. Code § 51(b); Isbister v. Boys’ Club of Santa Cruz, Inc., 40 cak.3d 72, 75 (1985)(“Absent the principal it codifies, thousands of facilities in private ownership, but otherwise open to the public, would be free under state law to exclude people for invidious reasons like sex, religion, age, and even race”). (It is also a violation of California’s Disabled Persons Act, Cal. Civ. Code, §§ 54, et seq., as explained below.)

Specifically, Mr. Hunthausen was a guest at your (Business Type), located at (Business address), on (visit dates). During his visit, (Business name) never provided warnings to Mr. Hunthausen regarding the safety of certain (Business features) on the premises; however, your (Business type) provides visible warnings for guests who are not visually impaired, in the form of signage visible inside the (Business), including warnings that certain products and conditions on your property are known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. For example, “Proposition 65 Warnings” are only accessible on your premises to individuals who are able to see
the warnings, and no effort is made to accommodate consumers like Mr. Hunthausen, who are unable to see posted signs. We believe that (Business name) treats consumers with disabilities in a manner that violates the Unruh Act.

As a result, Mr. Hunthausen intends to file a complaint in the Superior Court to remedy your failure to provide access to your establishment on equal terms to blind consumers. We are sending this letter in advance of filing a lawsuit, to see whether (Business Name) is interested in a resolution of Mr. Hunthausen’s claims before litigation.

I. California’s Unruh Civil Rthts Act

As explained above, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act guarantees every person in California “full and equal” access to “all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.” See Cal. Civ. Code, § 51(b); see also id., §§ 54, et seq. (California’s Disabled Persons Act, which prohibits anyone from denying or interfering with a disabled person’s admittance to or enjoyment
of public facilities or from otherwise interfering with the rights of a disabled person); Flowers v. Prasad, 238 Ca1.App.4th 930, 940-42 (2015) (a plaintiff claiming disability discrimination may assert claims under both the Disabled Persons Act and the Unruh Act because the two Acts are “plainly consistent” and so may be asserted simultaneously).

To prevail on his claim under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Mr. Hunthausen must establish that (i) he was denied full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services, (ii) a motivating reason for your failure to warn blind consumers was the additional expense of providing accommodations to the blind, (iii) that the wrongful conduct was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Hunthausen’s injury, and (iv) Mr. Hunthausen was harmed. See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), No. 3060. There is no question Mr. Hunthausen establishes the necessary elements for his Unruh claim because he was denied the same treatment and privileges provided to consumers that are not visually impaired.

First, Mr. Hunthausen’s disability–complete blindness—qualifies him as a member of a protected class. See Cal. Civ. Code, § 51(b) (specifically enumerating “disability” as a classification covered by the Unruh Act). (Business Name) denied Mr. Hunthausen from full and equal accommodations, advantages, and privileges by (i) failing to warn him (and other blind and visually impaired consumers) about exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm, while at the same time (ii) providing those warnings to non-blind and
visually impaired consumers. The Unruh Act mandates “equal treatment of patrons in all aspects of the business” and therefore “is not narrowly limited to practices which totally exclude classes or individuals from business establishments.” Koire v. Metro Car Wash, 40 Cal.3d 24, 29-30
(1985); see also Pizarro v. Lamb’s Players Theatre, 135 Cal.App.4th 1171, 1174 (2006) (the Unruh Act prohibits unequal treatment in addition to complete exclusion).

Second, among other things, intentional discrimination is found when there also exists a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq. (the “ADA”). See Munson v. Del Taco, Inc. , 46 Ca1.4th 661, 672, 678 (2009); see also Cal. Civ. Code, § 51(f) (by the Unruh Act’s express terms, any violation of the ADA is also considered a violation of the Unruh Act); CACI No. 3060 (“For claims that are also violations of the ADA, do not give element 2[intentional discrimination].”). Here, the violations Mr. Hunthausen has identified are also ADA violations. See, e.g., Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730 (9th Cir. 2007) (“To prevail on
a Title III discrimination claim, the plaintiff must show that (1) [he] is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) the defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation; and (3) the plaintiff was denied public accommodations by the defendant because of her disability.”). Therefore, he need not show intentional discrimination. In any event, Mr. Hunthausen also satisfies the intentional prong — (Business Name) denies blind consumers full and equal access to its restaurants because of the expense of providing equal accommodations and privileges to the blind.

Third, Mr. Hunthausen will be able to demonstrate the requisite causation. (Business Name) provides warnings, including Proposition 65 warnings mandated by law, but it takes no steps to ensure that blind and visually impaired consumers are warned of any danger. By operating in this manner, visually impaired consumers are unable to make the same informed decisions about potential exposures to harmful chemicals as consumers who are not visually impaired. The unfortunate effect is that blind and visually impaired consumers are unknowingly exposed to harmful chemicals.

Fourth, Mr. Hunthausen sustained an actual injury—he was unknowingly exposed to harmful toxins. See Cal. Civ. Code, § 52(h) (if defendant’s discriminatory conduct causes injury or damage beyond the discrimination itself, an Unruh plaintiff is entitled to recover for that injury). Even assuming Mr. Hunthausen did not suffer any actual injury—and to be clear, he did—an Unruh plaintiff need not have sustained actual injury to recover under the statute. See, e.g., Angelucci v. Century Supper Club, 41 Cal.4th 160,174 (2007) (in the absence of actual injury, an Unruh plaintiff may recover statutory damages).1

In sum, (Business Name) violated the Unruh Act.

II. Mr. Hunthausen’s Remedies

As a result of (Business Name) violations of the Unruh Act, Mr. Hunthausen is entitled to the following remedies:

1. Injunctive Relief. The Unruh Act specifically authorizes injunctive relief, including permanent injunctions, preliminary injunctions, and restraining orders. See Cal. Civ. Code, § 52(c)(3).

2. Compensatory Damages. Mr. Hunthausen may recover his “actual damages,” defined to include both general and special damages. Id., (h).

3. Statutory Penalties. Mr. Hunthausen is also entitled to recover statutory damages of at least $4,000, and up to three times actual damages, per violation. No actual damages need be suffered or proved. Id., (a); Angelucci, 41 Cal.4th at 174 (“Section 52 provides for minimum statutory damages … for every violation of section 51, Yegardless of the
plaintiff’s actual damages”) (emphasis in original).

I Mr. Hunthausen also has standing because he visited (Business Name) with the intent to use its services and, as explained above, was deprived of full and equal access to its services. See, e.g., White v. Square, Inc., 7 Ca1.5th 1019, 1032 (2019).

4. Attorneys’ Fees and Costs. The court may also award attorneys’ fees and costs to theprevailing plaintiff. See Cal. Civ. Code, § 52(a) (allowing only a prevailing plaintiff to recover attorneys’ fees; a prevailing defendant has no right to fees); Molski v. Arciero Wine Group, 164 Cal.App.4th 786, 791 (2008) (same).

III. Pre-Filing Resolution

If you would like to discuss a confidential pre-filing resolution of Mr. Hunthausen’s claims, please contact me at the phone number or e-mail below within twenty-one days of the date of this letter. Otherwise, my office will proceed with filing this action.

Sincerely,

Robert Tauler, Esq.

cc: Kevin J. Cole, Esq. (Co-Counsel)