Injury Lawyer Alert: Hidden Arbitration Clauses
A potential client comes to see an injury lawyer. He was hurt through no fault of his own. He wants to go to court and recover compensation. Or, a woman was deceived by a home-improvement contractor and wants to sue the company that defrauded her.
You would think that all the injury lawyer would have to tell the potential client would be whether he or she had a good case. But sometimes there is an additional factor. Sometimes, the client already gave up the right to sue before he even walked into the office of the injury lawyer.
How so? When you installed a new program on your computer, you were required to click “I accept,” correct? By clicking there you actually agreed to be legally bound by whatever terms were in the license agreement. You probably didn’t have time to read the license agreement. Most of us don’t.
Or, when you bought a home, or joined a gym, or purchased something else, you signed a contract. Did you understand everything that was in it?
Often, contracts, whether digital or paper, will have arbitration clauses. A valid arbitration clause takes away your right to sue in court. It takes away your right to have your case decided by a jury of your peers.
Rather, you would have to have your case decided by an arbitrator. Arbitrators are typically lawyers, often business lawyers. They may not be as sympathetic to you and your injuries as would your fellow citizens. Citizens who would sit on a jury.
Recently, a New Jersey appeals court decided a case where a real estate developer inserted an arbitration clause into its contract for a condominium development. A number of the buyers wanted to sue the developer because they claimed that the development lacked many of the amenities that they were promised. The developer tried to toss the case out of court because the buyers’ contracts included an arbitration clause.
In this case, the buyers were lucky. An appeals court said that the arbitration clause was deficient. The clause did state that any disputes had to be arbitrated. However, the clause didn’t specifically state that the buyers were giving up their right to sue in court. Therefore, the appeals court decided that the case could stay in court. Arbitration would not be required.
However, there have been other cases that have turned out differently. You can’t rely on something you sign being legally defective.
Don’t sign anything that you don’t fully understand. And don’t give up your right to sue.
While it may not be practical for every piece of software that you install, certainly, with respect to any large purchases or legal commitments you make, you should have a lawyer look at the contract first.