The ADA requirements deadline for ATMs has long since passed, but many financial institutions have yet to make the upgrades to all of their machines. Some 50 percent of ATMs in the United States remained non-compliant following the deadline, according to a March 2012 Wall Street Journal article.
While this number may be much lower rolling into 2013, the fact remains that many financial institutions have yet to meet requirements and may be putting their brand at risk.
Taking ADA to Court
As of January 2013, the Pittsburgh law firm Carson Lynch has filed more than 70 ADA-related ATM class action suits against financial institutions in the federal courts of Pennsylvania and several other states.
The first suits were filed as early as April of 2012 for plaintiff Robert Jahoda, a legally blind man who has now lodged as many as 35 separate ADA lawsuits against ATM operators.
An additional 19 suits have been entered on behalf of another visually impaired individual by the name of Darryl Garner. Fourteen suits have been filed for plaintiff Thomas Klaus in Pennsylvania's Middle District. A blind woman named Victoria Gikerson is the plaintiff in cases against 16 financial institutions in Texas.
Suits typically are not filed for punitive damages, but instead are aimed at forcing financial institutions to comply with ADA regulations. Even without large damages awards, a suit can set back an FI thousands of dollars in legal fees — on top of the cost of the required ATM upgrade.
Protecting the FI Brand
The effects of an ADA lawsuit are not restricted to an institution’s pocket-book, though. Negative media coverage can have a damaging effect on brand image, highlighting a financial institution's lack of urgency — and perceived lack of interest — in accommodating the needs of all customers, including the disabled.
Financial institutions can build a viable defense if they can prove that they have already made efforts to comply with ADA. New machines on order or on the installation schedule demonstrate an effort to follow regulations and provide convenience for the disabled.
Still, the best protection against ADA lawsuits and their negative effects on an FI's brand is to avoid them altogether by making sure that all ATMs are ADA compliant. For full information on the ADA requirements, visit http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAstandards.htm.
Rebecca Hellmann is the marketing manager for Welch ATM, an independent ATM company that currently manages more than 20,000 ATMs throughout the United States.