December 2014

Why and How Arbitration Constitutes the “Strip Mining of Legal Rights”

When it comes to consumer or employment contracts, forced arbitration is a problem in Maryland, and throughout the country.

In their April, 2014 article titled “The Strip Mining of Legal Rights” Ralph Nader and Theresa Amato call for limits on the use of fine-print terms to undermine legal rights. They call the use of fine print to avoid liability an “expanding coup d’etat against the civil justice system” and suggest action by Congress and federal agencies to control the use of forced arbitration clauses and establish model contract terms which are fair to both consumers and businesses.

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How Forced Arbitration in Boilerplate Contracts Strips Away Consumer Rights

Fine print boilerplate is everywhere, but what can be done to stop it? Theresa Amato writes in The Nation that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should take four steps to promote fairness in consumer contracts:

  1. Prohibit forced arbitration clauses in consumer contracts
  2. Maintain a searchable database of all standard form contracts used by the industries it regulates
  3. Develop its own “consumer-road-tested contracts” and prohibit certain terms, such as those that prohibit public criticism of the business involved, or waive liability for negligence.
  4. Promote a “fair contract” symbol to make it easy to identify contracts which conform to the standards proposed.

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Why and How Forced Arbitration Strips Consumers of Their Right to Sue in Court

In the Summer, 2014 issue of Washington Monthly, Lina Kahn wrote about how arbitration clauses are used by America’s corporations big and small to shield themselves from lawsuits. For example, suing Target over its loss of customer data to hackers:

may seem like an archetypical story of our times, combining corporate misconduct, cyber-crime, and high-stakes litigation. But for those who follow the cutting edge of corporate law, a central part of this saga is almost antiquarian: the part where Target must actually face its accusers in court and the public gets to know what went awry and whether justice gets done.

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