Why to watch out for arbitration agreements and class action waivers

10.23.2018

Angelica Ornelas— October 23, 2018

Class actions are an effective way to hold banks, corporations, and others accountable for unlawful practices, defective products, and other wrongdoing. (For more details about how a class action works, please see our post here.) Some companies hoping to avoid class action litigation include arbitration clauses in the terms and conditions that come with their products.

For example, when you buy a laptop or smartphone, you may receive a document that includes an “arbitration agreement” that says something like:

By agreeing to arbitration, to the fullest extent legally permissible, we each may bring claims relating to your device only in our individual capacities and not in a class action.

If you decide to keep your device but opt out of this arbitration agreement, you must do so by notifying seller within 30 days of activating your device for the first time (unless a longer period is required by applicable law) by following the instructions available on our website.

What this means is that unless you follow the selling company’s instructions for opting out of its arbitration agreement, you may give up your right to participate in a class action and be represented by experienced class action attorneys. You will also give up your right to a jury trial. So if you have a dispute with the selling company that you cannot resolve on your own, your only option may be to bring an individual claim in arbitration, which is a private proceeding, overseen by a person called an arbitrator—often a former lawyer or judge.

This means that when you are buying an item—especially a big-ticket item like a smartphone or computer—you should read the fine print to determine how best to protect your rights. The presence of arbitration clauses with class action waivers in consumer contracts puts the burden on ordinary citizens (1) to understand what rights they are giving away when they purchase a product and (2) to preserve those rights by taking the steps outlined in the paperwork that we too often recycle without reading.

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Girard Sharp LLP represents consumers, investors, and institutions in class actions and other complex litigation nationwide. Our class action lawyers have obtained multimillion-dollar recoveries for victims of unfair and deceptive practices in antitrust, financial fraud, and consumer protection matters against some of the country’s largest corporations (including Raymond James, John Hancock, Sears, Yahoo, and JP Morgan Chase). Girard Sharp LLP has earned top tier rankings from U.S. News and World Report for Securities and Class Action Litigation and was selected as a 2018 Elite Trial Lawyers finalist by the National Law Journal.

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