Consumer Reports explains what happens when you agree to an arbitration clause in the fine print of an agreement

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) – What could you be missing in the fine print if you don’t read an agreement before signing it? A clause that compels consumers to resolve disputes through arbitration is often buried in that fine print.

Consumer Reports spoke to a woman who fought for her right to sue for years.

Kathy Greiner was a DIRECTV customer for five years until her devices stopped working. She switched providers and thought the problem was solved. But she thought wrong.

“You said you would have a $240 fee. You have withdrawn the money from my account. It just seemed wrong,” she said.

Citing early cancellation fees, DIRECTV said the two-year service commitment was included in its agreement.

“I never signed anything. I didn’t see that anywhere,” said Greiner.

Greiner filed a class action lawsuit in California in 2008, saying the company failed to disclose early cancellation fees.

DIRECTV asked the court to resolve the case through arbitration, and after seven years of judgments and appeals, the US Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of DIRECTV.

According to Consumer Reports, this has had a far-reaching impact on consumers.

“Arbitration robs you of your right to a day in court to challenge any corporate wrongdoing. It doesn’t leave much recourse for the consumer,” said Consumer Reports’ Justin Brookman.

Consumer Reports says companies like DIRECTV may have a motive to resolve disputes through arbitration. From 2004 to 2010, DIRECTV billed more than 700,000 subscribers in California alone in early termination fees totaling $82 million. During the same period, it paid only $16,000 to plaintiffs.

“They fill their pockets while consumers can’t fight back effectively. It’s outrageous,” Brookman said.

DIRECTV has since changed hands and when Consumer Reports asked for comment on Greiner’s case, they had this to say: “We offer multiple service options to meet customer preferences.”

Greiner can’t tell us if she ever got her money back, but says her claim has been resolved.

“I feel like our hands are tied as we agree to these contracts,” she said.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Try to buy or use products that don’t require arbitration, which means read through terms and agreements, and use social media to complain about arbitration. As a result, some companies have changed their legal conditions.

Copyright © 2022 WPVI-TV. All rights reserved. Consumer Reports explains what happens when you agree to an arbitration clause in the fine print of an agreement

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