The Final Arbiter
What is arbitration?
Though you may not know what arbitration is, you’ve almost certainly agreed to it. Mandatory arbitration has been a common feature of contracts for years: buried deep in the iTunes renewal contract or a cable provider’s paperwork, there’s probably a clause that prevents you from suing the company. And if you clicked “I agree” or signed on the dotted line, you’ve waived your rights to a fair trial in a court of law, or at the very least severely abrogated it. Companies that don’t want to reveal their wrongdoing to the public (read: all companies) can take refuge behind closed doors with an arbiter of their choosing. This practice has been increasingly coming under scrutiny as consumers realize just how much they are being asked to give up.
Arbitration has a number of advantages for a company: primarily, and perhaps most startlingly, they are able to choose who oversees the case. While the arbiter claims to be neutral, the big company foots the bill, and can choose to hire the same arbitration service or not, depending on their track record. Since companies have a victim complex about the public courts, and since tort “reform” hasn’t proceeded far enough in their view, using an alternative legal system seems like a nice alternative for them. In addition, arbitration has another great advantage for big companies: it prevents class-actions lawsuits. Many of the definitive legal moments in the U.S. have been provided by way of class-actions, and very few of those pivotal moments were triumphs of Goliath over David. Mandating Arbitration is an important piece of an ongoing fight to dismantle the architecture that has made class-actions such an important tool for social reform.
You might be forgiven for wondering why on God’s green earth we would be moving towards creating a legal mechanism for large companies to circumvent the public courts the rest of us rely on. Didn’t we just catch corporations with their pants down in 2008? Should we be rebuilding the ramparts to defend against corporate misdeeds? Apparently not. The Supreme Court has been worryingly pro-business of late, and this session they seem to be taking on a number of class-action and arbitration cases, presumably in the interest of striking down rulings in favor of consumers. Concepcion overturned a California rule that forbade mandatory arbitration, and now a swarm of companies are moving to capitalize (pun intended) on this opening by tightening restrictions on the legal recourse available to their customers.
What can you do?
It can sometimes seem impossible to effect great sweeping changes in law or in society at large. Sometimes it can be ever harder to muster the energy to care. Our California attorneys know that suing anybody or anything can be the farthest thing from the average consumer’s mind. But if you ever receive a letter saying you owe thousands of dollars for something you never purchased, or for fees that were never disclosed, would you rather have the opportunity to present your case to twelve good men an true, or to a shadowy corporate lawyer in the employ of those who did you wrong? By contacting your congressperson, fighting in court for your right to fight in court, and by carefully reading contracts before you sign them, you can keep the first option open even as multinational conglomerates would like to force you down the second path. Even if you never see the inside of a courthouse in your life, it’s important to make sure that others can.
Who do you call?
If you believe that you may have been improperly force into arbitration, or that your rights as a consumer may have been abridges, call the Evans Law Firm at (415) 441-8669. The Evan’s Law Firm is a California-based plaintiff’s firm specializing in consumer rights, whistleblower protection, and banking an insurance fraud. We can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org