As consumers, you might not be aware that many companies are now using social networking to limit your access to the civil justice system. By “liking” a company on Facebook, downloading a coupon from a company website, entering a company sweepstakes online, or simply buying a product, some businesses are now requiring consumers to resolve disputes through “forced arbitration.”
This system is often stacked against the consumer and designed to discourage people from going through the trouble of making a claim. Most times, the arbitrator’s decision is final and binding, despite the fact that the case never goes before a judge or jury. Sometimes the “fine print” says that the arbitration must be held in the home state of the company, even if it is on the other side of the country from where you live. And, too often, this arbitrator is selected by the company!
So, for example, if you download a coupon from a company Facebook page then purchased a defective product from the same company, in many instances you might be forced to resolve your claims through arbitration rather than having your day in court.
General Mills was a prime example of a company that attempted to make such a change. One day, it posted on its website a simple message: “Please note we also have new legal terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.” This message was its effort to force consumers into arbitration to resolve legal disputes.
Fortunately, for consumers, public outcry forced General Mills to rescind its policy only weeks later.
However, many companies still have forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print. Some of the world’s biggest companies that you may use every day, like Amazon, Ebay, Netflix and Starbucks have all attempted to use binding arbitration as the exclusive means of settling product related claims.
Although we always encourage our clients to “read the fine print,” many companies are banking on the fact that someone isn’t going to read a big block of legal mumbo-jumbo just to redeem a $0.50 coupon on a box of cereal. In the end, if you or a loved one has been injured as a result of using any product that you bought in a store on online, you may have legal rights regardless of whatever terms and conditions are snuck into the fine print, and you should also contact an attorney for a free legal consultation to discuss your options. Just because you enjoy a product enough to “like” it on Facebook, does not necessarily mean you are waiving any claims you may have should that product cause harm you never expected.
Galfand Berger has been protecting the rights of consumers since 1947. If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product, call our firm at 1-800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online to schedule an appointment with an experienced, knowledgeable Philadelphia products liability lawyer. We can help.