To sue or not to sue

At first glance, providing the public with the right to sue government agencies

that fail to comply with Section 508 standards might seem to invite a landslide

of litigation.

Look for long lines at federal courthouses next spring as individuals

and advocacy organizations and their lawyers wait to file suits, said a

World Wide Web page designer. "There are groups just waiting to sue," he

said.

But perhaps not, say others who have studied Section 508 carefully.

Although anyone can sue, there appears to be little incentive in Section

508 for an onslaught of legal action. Compensatory and punitive damages — the big-dollar elements in most lawsuits — "will not be available to prevailing

plaintiffs," according to lawyers for the American Foundation for the Blind.

"Declaratory and injunctive relief" are the law's main payoff. That

means if an agency is found not to have complied with Section 508 accessibility

standards, a judge may order it to come into compliance.

The biggest reward for winning plaintiffs would be the satisfaction

of forcing an agency to do the right thing. They may also be able to collect

"reasonable attorneys' fees."

That's it.

Even if an agency's violation of Section 508 was deemed to be intentional

discrimination, "the Supreme Court has held that Congress has not waived

the federal government's sovereign immunity from damage awards," foundation

lawyers said.

"There won't be any money settlements," agreed Doug Wakefield, an accessibility

expert for the federal Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance

Board.

But the threat of lawsuits gives agency officials plenty of incentive

to try to comply with the 508 standards.

Getting sued is hardly career enhancing, and it can mean being tied

up in court for years, Wakefield said.

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