reading the fine print

Supreme Court Decision Should Prompt You to Read Contract Fine Print


We sign our names to them every day; standard contracts for standard service from windows to cell phones bear paragraphs of fine print. We like and even trust the person or company we are about to retain for services. And as consumers, we want to know that should something bad happen in the future, there are ways of recourse, like suing as an individual or becoming part of a class action lawsuit.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court changed your reality Now, standard contract language most likely will contain language that refers all claims directly to an arbitration process rather than a trial by jury as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution in the 7th Amendment. Also, such claims must now be brought by individuals, not en masse.

This ruling changes the very landscape of trust in transactions in all American commerce. One of the two parties involved in the contract (and it's not you, the average consumer) has just placed a finite and frustrating end to any claim you may have to or need to wage against that corporation, should you believe that they are guilty of wrong-doing, fraud, shoddy workmanship or negligence.

Bottom line: the list of options for you the consumer just got shorter and the ability for you being able to pursue your claim has gotten harder. Moreover, many claims may be just too small for an individual to pursue, your time is worth money too! Economically, attorneys simply cannot afford to help individuals on separate small claims. That's why claims en masse (class actions) are beneficial to the consumer and are good public policy. Large corporations know this, and that's why they put the fine print in their contracts, buried in the back pages, and know that this language will protect them when they do something wrong against the consuming public. Nevertheless wrongs happen daily that need to be corrected, particularly if they are made repeatedly.

Arbitration, as a process, in certain circumstances can be an affordable way to resolve a dispute. The Supreme Court's recent decision allows the contract language to have these disputes heard and decided by an Arbitrator—rather than a Judge and Jury as our forefathers had required.

This issue remains on the radar of the American Association for Justice and its president, Gibson Vance.