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When Buying Holiday Gifts, Don’t Sign Away Your Rights

This holiday season, in addition to fanatical Black Friday shoppers and long lines at retail stores, customers have one more thing to worry about: being coerced into accepting arbitration clauses that apply when products are dangerous or defective and consumers have to bring Chicago personal injury lawsuits as a result.

According to a recent report by the American Association for Justice (AAJ), a number of American companies are including forced arbitration clauses in the fine print of their merchandise; by buying the product, the customer agrees to the terms.

An arbitration clause is a common part of a contract that requires parties to a dispute to solve the issue through an arbitration process, rather than allowing parties to have their day in court. Additionally, arbitration clauses can bind parties to a particular jurisdiction, meaning that parties must travel to that jurisdiction to resolve conflict, and that the laws of that particular jurisdiction apply to the dispute.

Support for arbitration clauses stems from the fact that they reduce the burden on overstrained courts. However, when one party writes the terms of the clause and the other party has no choice to accept – other than to not get the benefit of the product – they can sometimes be unfair, especially where the party writing the contract is a large company. When a person suffers injury – for instance, in this case, harm from a product – the victim may be saddled with having to travel far from home to seek justice.

Illinois products liability law is an area of law that protects the public from hazardous products. When corporations manufacture merchandise and distribute it to the public, they have the responsibility of ensuring that their product is safe for consumer use or consumption. When a customer is harmed, infected, or killed as a result of a flawed product, the company may be held liable for those injuries, and may be legally responsible for the damages stemming from the harm caused by the product.

In this particular situation, the forced arbitration clauses are slanted against the interests of the consumers. As per the AAJ’s report, “in the event of a dispute with a corporation, the clause states that a consumer cannot take their case to court but instead must have their complaint decided in a private arbitration forum. The corporation often decides where this will take place and who the arbiter will be, leaving consumers with high fees and biased decision-makers.”

Moreover, following a decision by the United States Supreme Court that upheld the practice of including forced arbitration clauses in products, more and more corporations are getting on board. Although Sony was the first company to bury forced agreements in the sale of merchandise, AT&T, Starbucks, Microsoft, and Xbox manufacturers – among others – have done the same.

Unquestionably, when both parties willingly and knowingly agree to arbitration, it, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, have enormous benefits. Nevertheless, when an innocent consumer is harmed because of a corporation’s negligence, the victim should not suffer more by being denied access to the courts. Our Chicago personal injury attorneys want consumers to be safe this holiday season, which includes checking the fine print carefully before unknowingly limiting their right to justice.