Arbitration agreements: Read the fine print before you sign

Arbitration agreements

WKYC recently told you the story of a Navy reservist who was fired when he told his company he was being deployed. He couldn't sue to get his job back because his company forced him to sign an agreement that waived his right to go to court.

His case is not unique: In fact, you've probably signed dozens of these agreements without even knowing. 

Whether it's buried in the terms and conditions or pages and pages of user agreements, or for phone service, insurance provider or rental car company, one click, and your rights as a consumer could be gone.

Barb Marlowe rented a car from Hertz while on business in Florida. When she returned it, she made sure she filled up the tank because she didn't to get hit with fuel charges.

"Then I get my receipt," Marlowe said. "I look at the bill and there is an additional $13.99 for filling up the car."

What Barbara didn't know is that Hertz charges for gas unless you show the the gas station receipt, even if the gas gauge says full, something they don't mention when you rent the car.

You'd have to read their lengthy user agreement to find out.

When you multiply that $13.99 by hundreds of thousands of people who rent a car, that's a lot of money. A lot of customers have complained about the policy, but there is little they can do because also buried in the fine print of that agreement is a clause that says they have to arbitrate instead of going to regular court if they want to contest something.

They want to eliminate the ability of people to group together in class actions.

But this isn't unique to Hertz: Tens of millions of companies have arbitration agreements in their contracts, where complaints are handled behind closed doors. There is no jury, and the decision is usually kept secret.

This is done so other consumers with the same complaints don't know about the case.
  
"They did it specifically to address situations in which large businesses would be able to get away with piecemeal highway robbery," U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota said.

That's why Sen. Franken,  along with 82 other lawmakers in the House and Senate, introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act, to end these forced agreements, which he says restrict consumer's access to justice.

Proponents argue it's cheaper than a lawsuit and consumers can take their business elsewhere if they don't want to arbitrate.

© 2017 WKYC-TV


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