Online wine sales are skyrocketing and certainly more and more beverage alcohol entrepreneurs are jumping into this e-commerce space. One needs only to type a single word to explain this rising tide, and that word is, unfortunately, “pandemic.” That aside, the opportunities presented in the cyber-sphere for drinks sellers is significant but fraught with peril. There are many Beverage Law concerns involved such as supplier, platform and retailer relations and more importantly state laws on issues of tax, licensing and whether direct to consumer (DtC) is even permitted in a given state are a few significant issues that must be carefully analyzed and complied with if an entrepreneur is to run a successful online alcohol selling platform. Note that Beverage Law concerns are complex and varied and must be addressed but that is not the central topic of this post.
One little realized area of concern for many online sellers, including beverage alcohol sellers, is referred to “accessibility policy.”
In 1990 President Bush (Bush 1) signed the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. A principle area of concern at that time was ensuring that disabled American’s, and rightly so, had reasonable access to public places. Put another way physical barriers to places of public accommodation were found in violation of the ADA. Over the years many a reasonable lawsuit was brought to enforce the Act.
Today, many lawsuits under the ADA are brought by plaintiff’s against owners of websites arguing that they are in violation of the ADA in that they qualify as places of public accommodation and that under certain circumstances deny the right of equal access to disabled individuals.
Online alcohol beverage sales platforms whether retailer or third party managed are exposed to a claim under the ADA.
Plaintiffs lawyers often times representing a single person may bring multiple lawsuits against many websites at once. Further, there is an attorney’s fees provision in the statute that permits plaintiff’s counsel to receive an award of fees if victorious. Many, if not most of these actions are settled out of court with the defendant coming out of pocket to settle. Obviously, the lesson here is to ensure that any website, including alcohol beverage sellers platforms are compliant.
Compliance of course is not an easy task. It seems that there is no well-established set of guidelines to follow. W3.org appears to be good organization to rely on for internet and website guidance. That organization has also created a draft document to assist websites with ADA compliance. See: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/#versions.
Online alcohol sales present great opportunity today. Be sure you are in compliance with the ADA to avoid any unnecessary pecuniary loss.