Did you read the fine print? Know your rights as a consumer

Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 9:00 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Have you ever heard of a “forced arbitration” contract or clause?

Chances are, you’ve signed several agreements with this stipulation.

If you look closely, you may find this in the fine print of cell phone or credit card agreements, bank account, and student loan agreements, or even when you sign up for a social media site.

Danny Karon is a local attorney who hosts the legal wellness website Your Lovable Lawyer.

He warns these agreements only hurt consumers like you.

They require you give up your right to a jury trial.

Instead, if you have a dispute with a company, it goes to an arbitrator.

One example includes if you’ve been charged extra on your cell phone bill, and the charges add up over time.

“It’s $3, $5, $10 per person, times however many people were infected by the practice. Nobody can go to court rather;, it’s got to go to secret arbitration. You’re going to lose, and it’s basically a get out of jail free card for the defendant,” Karon said.

Clauses like this may also ban class action.

The company not only picks the arbitrator-- it pays for them too.

“So the empirical data show most of the time, you’re going to lose outright as a consumer. Or if you win, it’s going to be a lot less than you would have gotten had it been in a jury trial. Why? Because the defendants are picking the decision-maker,” Karon said.

We asked Karon what you can do as a consumer to protect yourself.

“You can perhaps take your claims to small claims court. You may have thought, wait a minute, I thought they can move you to arbitration; you can’t go to court. Often what I find is if you go to court, the company’s not going to want to mess with taking your case out of court; rather they’ll pay you your small claim just to get you to go away,” he said.

These contracts are often “take it or leave it” so they can’t be changed.

The best thing you can do is to be aware of it, Karon said.

And to know you have a choice when you are faced with arbitration.

Employment contracts often have this forced arbitration clause in them too.

Congress just passed a bill that would help workers who experience sexual assault or harassment on the job.

Once signed into law, it will enable survivors to hold their perpetrators and companies accountable in court instead of being forced into arbitration.

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