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Professor Richard Frankel Unveils Hidden Hazards in Terms of Use Agreements in the Philly Voice

Richard Frankel

February 10, 2016

Consumers unwittingly sign away constitutionally protected rights when purchasing services from many banks, cable providers and other businesses, Professor Richard Frankel said in an article published in Philly Voice on Feb. 10.

“Everyone has a constitutional right to a trial by jury in a legal dispute,” Frankel said.

Yet the terms of use that consumers must approve to open accounts with Netflix, Sony, Comcast, PNC and many other businesses often require customers to agree that they will resolve disputes through arbitration – a private form of dispute resolution.

Consumers often accept the detailed language in the voluminous agreements without reading them, leaving them without recourse to go to court if they've been wronged, Frankel said.  

Some terms of use contracts contain unusual requirements, such as agreeing not only to arbitrate a dispute but to do so in the state of California, a hardship for those who live elsewhere, Frankel noted.

Companies often reserve the right to change their terms of use without first notifying customers, giving consumers even less power, Frankel observed.

The author of numerous articles on mandatory arbitration and director of the Appellate Litigation Clinic, Frankel said the U.S. Supreme Court has generally blocked state legislatures and judges from trying to regulate arbitration clauses in consumer agreements.

“When it comes to arbitration, there’s a huge amount of lobbying power on behalf of groups that want a rigorous enforcement of arbitration clauses and waivers of rights to go to court,” Frankel said. “That really makes it difficult to enact change, even when we all realize it’s pretty ridiculous -- that no one is reading anything they’re signing and they’re written in a way to minimize the chance anyone is reading it.”