US Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court has announced that it will hear a case that will determine whether disabled activists can file disability rights lawsuits against hotels that they do not intend to visit. The case in question involves Deborah Laufer, a Florida resident who has filed over 600 federal lawsuits against hotel owners and operators. Laufer, who has a vision impairment, limited use of her hands, and uses a cane or wheelchair to get around, has claimed that the websites of small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts do not provide clear information about their accessibility to people with disabilities. This is considered a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuits filed by Laufer and other “testers” who assess hotel websites for accessibility have divided federal appeals courts across the US. The main question at the heart of this debate is whether individuals who have no intention of visiting the establishments they are challenging have the legal standing to sue. Some courts have allowed such lawsuits, while others have denied them. The case before the Supreme Court specifically concerns the Coast Village Inn and Cottages in Wells, Maine, where Laufer filed a lawsuit alleging that the hotel’s website did not provide sufficient information about disability accommodations. The trial court initially dismissed the case, but an appeals court later allowed it to proceed.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires hotels to identify and describe their accessible features, including guest rooms, in sufficient detail. Laufer’s lawsuits and those filed by other disability rights activists are designed to ensure that hotels comply with these regulations. However, the question of legal standing has made the issue more complicated. Some courts argue that individuals like Laufer, who have not suffered any direct harm from the establishments they are suing, should not be able to sue for non-compliance. However, others argue that the lack of clear information on hotel websites can constitute harm in and of itself, as it limits the ability of people with disabilities to make informed choices about where to stay.

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will have significant implications for disability rights activists, hotel owners, and the wider hospitality industry. The decision will determine whether individuals who are not directly impacted by a hotel’s non-compliance with accessibility regulations have the right to sue. If the court allows such lawsuits, it could lead to an increase in legal action against small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that may not have the resources to comply with ADA regulations. Conversely, if the court denies the lawsuits, it could make it more difficult for disabled individuals to hold hotels accountable for non-compliance with accessibility regulations.

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