Domino's legal case leaves restaurant mobile apps vulnerable amidst an uncertain future

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a case involving pizza chain Domino’s mobile app might usher in a potentially new standard for the fast-food industry.

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Industry experts see a new looming era for restaurants and their mobile apps.

On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Domino’s over a previous ruling that the pizza chain’s website and mobile app were not accessible under the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A blind customer of Domino’s was unable to use the app to order a pizza, leading to the lawsuit and a ruling in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the mobile app must be made accessible.

According to Chris Ake, this could be “monumental” in the restaurant industry. Ake is the founder of Grand Apps, which specializes in mobile apps for the restaurant industry among other business offerings.

“We are living in a more digitally-connected world run by software and we need to look at resetting standards for compliance and regulations, such as being ADA compliant,” Ake told FOX Business.

“I think restaurants need to be on high alert. There have been significantly increasing ADA compliant lawsuits for websites and mobile apps since 2017. Remember when people needed a mobile-first strategy? Well, they should focus on an ADA-compliant strategy and put that into their budgets because as we have seen with Domino's, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor they were not compliant which sets the precedent. So, if restaurants are not compliant, they're at a great risk.”

In a statement released on their website, Domino’s postured that it has “already developed an accessible website and app.” The company then made the case that a national standard in accordance with ADA guidelines is necessary to ensure compliance.

“Although Domino’s is disappointed that the Supreme Court will not review this case, we look forward to presenting our case at the trial court. We also remain steadfast in our belief in the need for federal standards for everyone to follow in making their websites and mobile apps accessible,” Domino’s said in a statement.

“Creating a nation-wide standard will eliminate the tsunami of website accessibility litigation that has been filed by plaintiffs’ lawyers exploiting the absence of a standard for their own benefit, and chart a common path for both businesses and non-profit institutions to follow in meeting the accessibility needs of the disabled community.”

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Currently, the laws governing ADA compliance with mobile apps is still murky, says Shawn Stevens, a food industry lawyer and founder of Food Industry Counsel LLC, the only law firm in the U.S. that represents the food industry exclusively. On the fallout from the Domino’s decision and where the industry will move when it comes to mobile apps, Stevens said the case “creates substantial uncertainty for the restaurant industry.”

“The laws are quite vague and open for broad interpretation. I view mobile apps as only one of many ways to access a restaurant’s product offerings,” Stevens told FOX Business.

“So long as other means exist, there should be no claim. It really becomes more of a competitive edge issue – i.e., who has the best apps accessible to the most people. With that said, there are countless plaintiffs’ lawyers targeting the food industry looking for ways to profit by turning that vagueness into large-scale lawsuits and settlements.”

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