Holiday Shoppers Beware: Forced Arbitration May Be Part of the Package

November 29, 2014  |  Other, Forced Arbitration

The premise of Thanksgiving weekend shopping is simple: SAVE.

Paired with the increasingly popular “Cyber Monday” that follows, this weekend sees a whole lot of sales. But be careful what you wish for — and buy. Because, while taking advantage of the big deals has its advantages, there are some serious disadvantages that you need to be aware of.

Yep. We’re going there again. Forced arbitration.

Here’s why: Big, well-known retailers like Verizon, Neiman Marcus and Amazon often include a “little white line”- or two. These “little white lines” are creative ways to say they have clauses in the sales contracts that do not allow you to ever file a lawsuit – even if something terrible happens as a result of the product purchased.

Here’s what we mean.

Say you open a food product you bought on sale that turned out to have glass in it; or bought an electronic device with batteries that enflamed; or a baby’s toy with small parts that broke off and became a choking hazard… years ago, back when forced arbitration clauses were not a part of consumer-to-company purchases, you would have been able to do something. Typically, you might think of calling the company up. And if they didn’t respond in a way that you felt was sufficient or reasonable for the damage you incurred… you’d talk to a lawyer. Years ago, back before forced arbitration snuck into our consumer purchases, a lawyer would have been able to help you file a lawsuit so that you had a chance to be compensated for the damages incurred, thus speaking up against corporate  negligence.

But that logical scenario doesn’t play out so well anymore.

Instead, because of forced arbitration, here’s what you’re more like to experience: Suffer from a dangerous product or service; call said company; hear nothing or little in terms of help or attention to problem; try to do something and then find out you can’t file a lawsuit because: Forced Arbitration.

Arbitration is designed to keep you out of the courtroom and on the negotiation table, aka, in an arbitration that is overseen by an arbitrator who is bought and paid for by the very company you’re trying to speak up against.

It was “invented” long ago so that businesses could fight with other businesses in a way that was less time-consuming and expensive for both parties. But now that arbitration has been forced onto unwilling consumers — by way of little clauses we can barely read snuck in on our receipts and contracts — arbitration has become a one-sided train: businesses get a less time-consuming, less expensive arbitration process because, thanks to arbitration, they cannot be sued. And yet the consumers who trusted said negligent company in the first place are left without access to the civil justice system.

Yep, it’s a one-sided train and it’s barreling towards us now as the holiday sales season begin.

We’re doing what we can to fight the injustice that is forced arbitration. But until we get that damaging line off our sales contracts, we encourage you: Think before you buy, especially from big chains like Amazon, Neiman Marcus and Verizon. Because if something goes seriously wrong, there’s seriously very little chance you’ll be able to do much about it.

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