The Nation: How Consumers Are Getting Screwed by Court-Enforced Arbitration

Yes, unfortunately, this applies to you:

"For more than forty years, the Supreme Court’s conservatives have been engaged in a campaign to shut the courthouse door to consumers, working people, small businesses and others seeking redress for corporate wrongdoing. 
In recent years, and especially since Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito joined the Court, a major weapon in this campaign has been the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) of 1925. The conservatives have used the act to prevent victims of such abuses from seeking redress in the courts, forcing them into pre-dispute arbitration instead. In doing so, they lose a public trial, a jury and a neutral judge, as well as an appeal to a higher court; in many cases they may also have to give up discovery rights. It is not uncommon for them to wind up before an arbitrator who is dependent upon the defendant’s business community for work and fees, and who may not even be legally trained. Not surprisingly, those forced into arbitration almost always fare much worse than they would in court.
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Two reports issued at the end of last year show how effective the Court’s arbitration rulings have been. Last December, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a preliminary report, which found that contract clauses mandating pre-dispute arbitration are a “common feature of consumer financial contracts”; a final report is due by year’s end. The agency found such clauses in over 50 percent of credit card loans, 81 percent of prepaid charge cards and in checking accounts covering 44 percent of all insured deposits."  (emphasis added). (continue reading)

When I first started to understand the scope of this issue and began taking a hard look at my various consumer contracts it was truly startling.  Even almost a decade ago, I found that the vast majority of my consumer contracts were subject to mandatory arbitration agreements.

For example, that huge bill AT&T sent you that was incorrect - perhaps because they charged you based on your previous plan even though you upgraded - if you can't get a decent customer relations person on the phone (a real risk) you can't challenge the charge in court.

That's something to really give some thought to as a consumer.  

Do you really want to have a contract with a company that is not willing to stand by the quality of its product and services in court?  If the answer to that is no - then there's a real problem -  some consumer industries do not offer a viable company you can use that does not use mandatory arbitration agreements.

If this is all a bit disturbing you may have good reason to get behind the stalled Arbitration Fairness Act. Take a look:

Senator Al Franken
The ability of ordinary Americans to seek justice in our courts, even when up against the most powerful corporate interests, has become a fundamental element of our civil justice system. However, the growing use of forced arbitration provisions in consumer and employment contracts has eroded this essential function. Forced arbitration provisions thwart the ability of workers and consumers to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing, even in the most egregious cases. (continue reading)