A recent United States Supreme Court case has upheld an arbitration clause in a class action dispute against DirectTV. While the case may seem more applicable to contractual or consumer claims, as the law crawls towards upholding these kinds of clauses, personal injury victims may also find their rights adversely affected.
What is Arbitration?
Arbitration is a process by which a plaintiff’s case is heard before an arbitrator instead of in open court. The arbitrator is often not a judge, but rather a practicing attorney or retired judge. The process can be faster and much less formal than a full trial in a court. The arbitrator makes the decisions in the case, instead of a jury. Thus, a victim’s claims are no longer decided by his or her peers as they would be with a jury. In many cases, arbitrators derive significant business from insurance companies and big businesses, including the ones whose cases they hear, creating an inherent conflict of interest.
Why Companies Like Arbitration
Many companies like arbitration for this very reason—they feel it removes the emotional impression that a case may make on a jury, and thus, the logic goes, reduces the amount of the average verdict. Many companies have begun to force consumers to sign contracts that require arbitration if there is a lawsuit. While many such contracts limit consumer claims, in many cases, arbitration clauses affect the rights of personal injury victims.
Any establishment where a consumer signs a contract may be subject to arbitration. Examples include nursing homes, businesses that supervise children, or gyms.
Supreme Court Again Upholds Arbitration Clause
The Supreme Court already held arbitration clauses enforceable in 2011. This recent dispute arose because of California law, which prohibited arbitration clauses, and DirectTV’s contract, which required arbitration unless the consumer’s state law stated otherwise.
The consumers tried to argue that because California law prohibited arbitration, the DirectTV arbitration clause was not applicable. But the Supreme Court disagreed, stating that California law couldn’t restrict arbitration based on the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision. Thus, the applicable law at the time the consumers signed the DirectTV contract didn’t prohibit arbitration, making the contractual clause enforceable.
It is admittedly a convoluted fact pattern that involves some contractual analysis of the DirectTV agreement. The overriding trend is still disturbing—that the nation’s highest court continues to uphold provisions that ultimately take away a consumer’s (or victim’s) constitutional right to have their cases decided by a jury of their peers.
If you have been injured, make sure your constitutional rights are protected and that your case gets in front of a jury. Contact the personal injury attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.