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What Are IT Professionals Legally Responsibility For? (AKA, How to Avoid 3 Types of E&O Claims)

What Are IT Professionals Legally Responsibility For? (AKA, How to Avoid 3 Types of E&O Claims)

IT professionals can avoid lawsuits over errors & omissions, data security, and intellectual property by managing their legal responsibilities and purchasing adequate insurance policies.

Thursday, January 9, 2014/Categories: cyber-liability

There are three key legal responsibilities IT companies need to understand in order to avoid lawsuits alleging errors and omissions, negligence in data protection, or theft of intellectual property:

  • Accessibility.
  • Data security.
  • Copyright.

Read on for a look at how each applies to you and how to make sure you’re meeting your responsibilities so you can avoid expensive lawsuits.

Errors & Omissions Concerns: Do I Have to Make Software or Web Pages Handicap-Accessible?

State and federal laws are unclear about whether you need always make software or web pages handicap-accessible. In fact, the courts have gone both ways on their rulings. For a long time, judges did not assume that the American with Disabilities Act applied to e-commerce. However, the interpretation of the law appears to be shifting.

Last year, as part of a settlement agreement following a lawsuit by the National Association of the Deaf, Netflix agreed to start offering closed captioning for its streaming video (and pay almost $800,000 in legal fees).

As these laws continue to be enforced more carefully, you should make sure your business complies with them. Here are some specific situations where you might come under scrutiny or face an E&O claim for failing to meet standards.

  • Accessibility for employees with disabilities. If you are designing software for a company with disabled employees, you will probably have to accommodate their accessibility concerns. The specifics depend on the needs of the client's employees. If you’re designing an IT solution for a company with blind employees, for example, the American Foundation for the Blind put together this guide to making IT-infrastructure accessible.
  • Working with government contracts.  Section 508 of the Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that all government agencies make their web pages and information technologies accessible to people with disabilities. This law applies to all IT project managers hired by a government agency or its contractor.
  • Industry-specific laws. Some industries have specific laws that govern accessibility requirements. For instance, publishers have to make eBooks available to disabled students who use them for a class. Before starting on a project, check with your client to see if there are any such laws. 

Errors and Omissions Insurance can protect you from any compliance-related lawsuits. For more on making a web page ADA-compliant (and hopefully avoiding those lawsuits altogether), read TechRepublic's guide to accessibility and web design or the W3C's resources for web accessibility.

Data Security Concerns: Liabilities for IT Companies

IT project managers are responsible for protecting customer and client data, which falls under the jurisdiction of three different laws:

  • State data breach laws, which regulate how and when you need to inform customers when their data has been unlawfully accessed (by hackers and others). (Working with clients in multiple states? Check out the blog post, “Have Clients in Different States? Know the Rules after a Data Breach.”)
  • HIPPA and HITECH laws, which enforce strict regulations to protect medical records and related data.
  • Data Protection Act, which specifies how US companies are required to handle data from European Union citizens.  

Violating these laws can expose your business not only to lawsuits, but also fines. HITECH laws fine some businesses over a $1 million for medical data breaches. Make sure you're in compliance.

Data Breach Insurance is vital for small IT businesses, because it covers the cost of these lawsuits and helps you protect your customers from identity theft.

To learn more about these laws and their specific requirements, read our article "Cyber Law Essentials: 3 Laws Every IT Firm Needs to Know."

Intellectual Property Concerns: Copyright Lawsuits for Programmers and Web Developers

Copyright laws are of special concern for web developers and programmers, who can be sued for copyright infringement over images, videos, other media, and even the code they use.

That's right. While everyone has heard of the risks of posting copyrighted video online, did you know that you could be sued for using someone else's code? What's more, judges have even ruled that web developers who use a competitor's brand name or trademark in their metadata (in order to rank higher in search ratings) can also be sued for infringement.

General Liability Insurance protects IT firms from copyright and trademark infringement, paying for the cost of a lawsuit. To learn more about web liability, check out the post "Web Design Insurance Defends Freelancers from Lawsuits." 

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