In many credit card and cellphone contracts there are clauses that would shock most consumers. Those clauses state that if a consumer has has a dispute involving the account, the company “may elect to resolve any claim by individual arbitration.”
By inserting arbitration clauses into a large number of consumer contracts, companies have devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class action lawsuits, realistically the only tools consumers have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.
In today’s business environment, it is difficult to apply for a credit card, enter into a cellphone contract, get internet service, or shop online without agreeing to private arbitration. The same facts apply to getting a job, renting a car or placing a family member in a nursing home.
This trend towards mandatory arbitration, is one of the most profound shifts in our legal history. William G. Smith, a federal judge in Boston, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, said in an interview “Ominously, business has a good chance of opting out of the legal system altogether and misbehaving without reproach.”