Banks have been scrambling to upgrade their ATM machines to comply with titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), requiring them to make all of their ATMs fully accessible to the visually impaired. But many of the nation’s 405,000 ATMs are not in compliance and lawyers are gearing up the class action lawsuits. American Banker reports that 17 banks in the Ohio, Western Pennsylvania area are snagged in such a suit,
leaving them open to potentially millions more in litigation costs. Bank defense attorneys say the Pennsylvania-Ohio legal cluster could replicate itself across the country, particularly as the ADA suits fall within the framework of successful class actions filed over wheelchair ramps and other physical design issues.
“When you take a look at the motivation for class actions, [class action shops] get attorney fees and settlement fees, and the banks pay for this,” says Mercedes Kelley Tunstall, of counsel, at Ballard Spahr.
The law firm of Carlson Lynch is representing Robert Jahoda who is the sole plaintiff in all of the suits, representing similarly “situated” people.
“I and my law firm have filed a number of lawsuits calculated to cause compliance with the requirements of this law,” Bruce Carlson, the lead attorney in the case, wrote in an email to American Banker. “We expect that the lawsuits that we filed will achieve the objective of Congress in that they will cause compliance with a law that the industry has known about for an extended period of time.”
Yes of course, it’s all about compliance and making sure a visually impaired person can operate each and every ATM in the United States. But compliance doesn’t come cheap.
After banks pay thousands to upgrade their machines or buy new ones for upwards of $50,000, it turns out they are not done complying with a judge’s order. According to the American Banker,
The real consequence can be years of oversight meted out through consent decrees where the plaintiff’s law firm gets thousands of dollars in fees, including from third parties monitoring compliance, experts say.
“With ADA class actions, you will often see the settlement has ongoing compliance requirements with a third party coming in and checking that the bank remains remediated, and the plaintiff’s lawyer gets between $5,000 and $25,000 in annual fees for reviewing the results,” Tunstall says.
Trust but verify.