By Michael Raff, Esq.
Most people are used to clicking “agree” and signing contracts frequently without much thought. Buried in the fine print of these documents and online websites for things like credit cards, mobile phones, nursing home contracts, job applications, are some words that can really impact your constitutional rights.
Corporations really like these words. It’s been a relatively secretive practice until lately. The New York Times recently published an in depth series of articles about what really happens when citizens “click here to agree.” The result is forced arbitration.
Forced arbitration is typically a bullying tactic created to destroy the right of people to seek justice. Corporations use forced arbitration because they know that when they do something wrong, the fine print gives them a really easy out.
We’ve seen it happen in the past. For instance, a bank wrongfully charged their customers in overdraft fees that should not have applied. It’s typically just not worthwhile for an individual customer to sue the bank over the wrongful charge. However, if the customers joined other customers to bring a collective (or class action) lawsuit, they could hold the banks accountable for their wrongdoing. Forced arbitration, though, prevents customers from joining together. If the customer wanted to retrieve his small amount of money back from the bank, he would most likely have to pay far more in costs just to proceed with arbitration.
There are times, of course, when arbitration may be preferable. The problem is when people and customers are forced into it before a dispute even occurs.