Fla. advocacy group filing majority of lawsuits in Pittsburgh

By John O'Brien | Mar 7, 2017

PITTSBURGH – A Miami advocacy group for the disabled is increasingly focusing its efforts in a Pennsylvania courthouse.

Access Now, Inc., a not-for-profit formed in 1997, is listed as a plaintiff in 34 lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act in Pittsburgh federal court. Mostly thanks to the Pittsburgh firm Carlson Lynch Sweet & Kilpela, the court has earned a reputation as one of the most active in the nation when it comes to lawsuits filed on behalf of the blind against the owners and operators of websites.

Formed by the late attorney Edward Resnick in 1997, Access Now currently shows seven officers and directors, all living in Florida. Its president is R. David New, a blind artist living in Miami Beach.

The group’s focus on the Pittsburgh federal court seems to be new. The recent influx of lawsuits began in July 2015, and of its 19 cases filed in 2017, 10 are in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

New is also listed as a plaintiff on many of the lawsuits along with fellow frequent plaintiffs Lisa Frazier, Rachel Gniewkowski and Michelle Sipe.

Access Now targets a wide range of companies over their websites. Its most recent lawsuit was filed against Omaha Steaks and alleges the company’s website contains “digital barriers” that prevent blind and visually impaired visitors from accessing it.

Other defendants include Buffalo Wild Wings, Churchill Downs and Chick-Fil-A. The lawsuits are often consolidated with others.

The Pennsylvania Record previously reported on the rise of website accessibility lawsuits in Pittsburgh in 2016. In these cases, plaintiffs assert that websites must comply with the same ADA rules that physical locations do because they offer services to the public.

One of Access Now’s most noteworthy cases was a class action filed against the athletic wear company lululemon. The settlement required the company to begin equipping each store with certain PIN pads and pay $7,000 in gift cards to Access Now and New.

The Coral Gables, Fla., law firm Leon Cosgrove represented Access Now and New were paid $37,000. Carlson Lynch represents Access Now in its Pennsylvania lawsuits.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach editor John O'Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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Carlson, Lynch, Sweet & Kilpela U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

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