Recently, the Miami Herald reported on the growing popularity of arbitration as a means of resolving disputes, describing this alternative to the file-a-lawsuit-go-to-trial process as being a cheaper and faster option to the traditional courthouse route.
It is true that in Florida, arbitration is becoming a very popular alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method. There are several reasons for this. Some point to the bottle necked court dockets we have here in Florida (due to foreclosure filings, some say). Others point out the cost of litigation forces people to find alternatives: from discovery to trial, lawsuits of any complexity are very costly.
However, one of the big reasons that arbitration is so popular these days, and in all likelihood will be even more popular in the days to come, is because so many companies like it. Arbitration is included in many, many consumer contracts these days — and if you want that company’s product or service, agreeing to arbitrate any dispute with them comes with the deal. No choice.
What if you don’t want to arbitrate with them? Well, your option is not to buy from that company.
Have You Agreed to Arbitration Already?
Check your car loan — odds are high that you’ll find an arbitration clause there, where you have agreed to circumvent a trial if you have a dispute with the company. Check your employment agreement or employee handbook: many employers are opting for arbitration when there are disputes between employees and the Powers that Be.
Today, mandatory arbitration clauses can be found in health care agreements (hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, etc.); real estate documentation (contractors, financing, repair, etc.); credit card agreements; and many employment contracts (especially for national companies). Sell on E-Bay? You’re going to arbitrate your disputes with that company. Have an American Express card? You’re going to arbitration if you have a problem with AmEx.
In fact, odds are high that any consumer transaction with a national company is going to involve the arbitration process. Here’s a partial list of “forced arbitration” companies compiled by Citizen.org (go to their site for the complete “rogues list”):
- Covenant Health
- Manor Care of Florida
- DR Horton
- KB Home
- Pulte Homes
- Beazer Homes
- Pep Boys
- Barnes & Noble
Forced Arbitration Is a Reality in the 21st Century
Consumer arbitration is a big deal in this country. In an arbitration, you will attend hearings, you will present evidence, but there won’t be the protections that are provided in a standard trial setting and the final decision will be made by an arbitrator (not a jury) which may be binding upon you without the ability to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling.
Advocacy groups call this new trend “forced arbitration” and argue that arbitration clauses placed into contracts for goods and services bought in this country end up denying the buyer some basic rights — including the right to form a class action.
There is a Need for Your Own Lawyer in Evaluating Your Arbitration Case and in Representing Your Side in an Arbitration Proceeding
Arbitration is not the same as a trial; you will not get the same protections that the judicial process provides — and what rights you have or don’t have will be outlined in the arbitration agreement you have entered into as well as the arbitration rules that control the dispute. It can be complicated.
While you will be able to present your side of the story to the arbitrator, it will not be done in the same way as in court. Evidence rules that may protect you in a Miami courtroom may not apply in arbitration. Your opponent may be able to introduce things for consideration in arbitration that would be excluded at trial, for example.
To understand your rights under an arbitration clause as well as the practicalities of pursuing a claim in arbitration (costs, etc.) it is important to discuss your situation with a Florida arbitration lawyer who has experience in dealing with arbitration claims, consumer arbitration, and forced arbitration situations. Most arbitration attorneys who represent consumers will welcome the opportunity to chat with the individual at no cost, in order to determine what has happened from a legal perspective so there can be a decision on whether or not to proceed together in fighting via an arbitration venue.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to Chat with Larry in the comments below, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (954) 458-8655. If you have a specific or personal situation, please call or email Larry because he can’t answer specific fact questions in general comments. “I’m happy to take your call.”