Consumer and Media Alert:
THE SMALL PRINT THAT'S DEVASTING CONSUMER RIGHTS
Most Consumers Never Even Notice "Mandatory Arbitration Clauses,"
Now Being Slipped Into Everything from Bills to Contracts
NCLC Seeks More Protections, Crafts Model State Law
BOSTON - It may be in tiny print among the ads stuffed into your credit-card bill. Or a few lines buried in a multi-page health insurance agreement, home-repair contract or college loan. The language is often dense legal-ese, but make no mistake: It translates into a giant trap door for consumers.
Welcome to the astonishingly unfair and undemocratic world of mandatory arbitration clauses. All that small print and buried verbiage boils down to this: that by simply continuing to use your credit card or health plan, for instance, you've suddenly agreed to resolve all disputes arising with that company - even very serious ones - through binding arbitration.
This passive consumer "agreement" to arbitration is a rather shocking way to obtain what passes for "informed consent" to a truly momentous waiver of rights. And it's only the start of the problem.
So beginning today, and in light of recent nationwide developments on this issue (details below), NCLC is calling on consumers and the news media to focus far more attention on the consequences of these clauses, which are spreading like wildfire across America.
A look at how businesses are using mandatory arbitration clauses says more about why they're so disturbing. The kind of passive "notice" that locks consumers into arbitration increasingly ties them to a system that thoroughly stacks the deck when serious disputes arise.
Companies alone select the arbitration service - often one dependent on them for repeat business. Those same companies often write the arbitration rules, and unsurprisingly those rules often demand complete secrecy about the proceeding and its outcome while limiting what evidence consumers can present. Consumers usually pay more for arbitration proceedings than they would for a public court proceeding.
If they lose there's no appeal -- that means even legal errors in an arbitrator's decision are frequently beyond remedy.
And if they refuse to participate in this rigged game these clauses often dictate, they'll automatically lose the dispute, with no further recourse.
National Consumer Law Center advocates believe these clauses are the single biggest threat to consumer rights in recent years, a de-facto rewrite of the Constitution that undermines a broad range of consumer protections painstakingly built into law.