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Consumers continue to be victims of arbitration

Imagine getting hurt, losing money or losing a loved one because of abuse committed by a corporate entity. It would be reasonable to assume that victims or family members would be able to take the accused company to court and seek a jury trial and compensation. However, as too many people in this troubling situation may learn, corporate contracts are increasingly shutting down this option.

If you don't remember agreeing to one of these contracts, which can prevent people from participating in class actions and force consumers into arbitration rather than litigation, you are not alone. Many people have no awareness that purchasing an item, liking something on Facebook or signing up with a bank is considered to be consenting to these terms. 

In recent years, courts have played a significant role in preventing consumers from holding corporate entities accountable for wrongdoing. They have permitted companies to include terms in contracts that negatively impact consumers' discovery rights and access to a neutral justice system. And these contracts are not the kind you might sit down with an attorney and review before signing. They are credit card loans, cellphone agreements, transportation tickets, nursing home contracts and even purchases made online.

By signing a document or clicking that you "agree with the terms" of a service or product, consumers may be agreeing to terms they do not know about or understand, which is what the companies plan on. If more people truly understood the clauses in some of these contracts, it is highly unlikely that they would sign.

In cases when a person is forced into arbitration, they are often required to have a hearing before a person who may have no legal training and have a mutually beneficial arrangement with the business on the other side of the dispute. Rarely do individuals get a fair and appropriate resolution.

There are many legal complications that can arise when a person suffers as a result of negligence or abuse. In some cases, this can involve the realization that a person is contractually obligated to go through pre-dispute arbitration. Whenever legal challenges arise, it can be crucial for a victim to understand his or her rights and options to pursue damages and accountability.

Source: The Nation, "How Consumers Are Getting Screwed by Court-Enforced Arbitration," Herman Schwartz, July 8, 2014

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