City and county leaders across the state are being forced to make major changes to the way public records are posted online after one local man filed dozens of lawsuits.
The Daytona Beach man is legally blind, and his lawsuits claim a device he uses to access content on the internet is unable to read certain public documents.
Investigative reporter Karla Ray found out that man and his attorneys have been paid thousands of dollars in settlements, just from here in Central Florida, over the last year.
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With a few clicks and keystrokes, you can find agendas and documents dating back at least seven years on Altamonte Springs’ city website, but not all of those documents are accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Many of the documents we have are scanned images,” City Manager Frank Martz explained. “They're old pieces of paper that we've turned into electronic files.”
Martz says it’s those types of documents forcing his city and at least a dozen other Central Florida municipalities to make big changes, after being sued by legally blind Daytona Beach resident Joel Price.
Court records show Price sued against Marion, Brevard, Flagler, Osceola, Seminole, Lake, Volusia and Orange counties. The cities of Ocala, Cocoa and Melbourne are also facing suits, and the city of Apopka received a request for accommodation, which typically comes before a lawsuit is filed.
“We expect all of this is going to cost $80,000,” Martz said about the upgrades Altamonte Springs will need to make.
In addition to making sometimes expensive changes to come into compliance, Central Florida counties have paid Price and his Miami-based attorneys thousands of dollars in settlements over the past year.
A total of nearly $90,000 has been paid in cases that have settled so far inSeminole, Lake, Marion, Brevard, Osceola and Orange counties.
“What you want to do is be as transparent as can be, but because of these ADA lawsuits all over the state, you're going to limit what you put up,” Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson said. Nelson questioned the sincerity of the pre-lawsuit letter he says will mean fewer documents posted on his city’s website.
Attorneys for the city of Ocala wrote, "Given what is publicly known about the plaintiff, the city has doubts about the sincerity of his allegations," in a just-filed motion to dismiss Price’s lawsuit there.
WFTV tried to ask Price about the lawsuits, but he did not want to do an interview.
“No matter where he lives, or whether it's legitimate or not, what's important to us is that we provide the accessibility that's required,” Martz said.
According to court records, litigation is still ongoing in Altamonte Springs and Ocala, along with Volusia County, Cocoa and Melbourne. The municipalities that have settled were given time to bring their websites into compliance, and some have until next year or later to do so.
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