An Update from Our Firm about COVID-19

Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner remains fully operational and committed to serving our clients and colleagues throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. As we follow the CDC guidelines and practice social distancing, we remain available for phone consultations and scheduled in-person meetings with both current and prospective clients and colleagues. Please contact our office by email or by calling 713-222-7211 with any questions. We look forward to hearing from you.

General Mills Attempts to Force Arbitration upon Consumers

Probably most Texans remain unaware of the systematic attack on their right to a jury trial. General Mills, the giant food maker, is simply the latest to try to eliminate it.

The Texas Legislature passed an arbitration statute years ago, and the Texas Supreme Court has aggressively enforced arbitration, even when a party was unaware of an arbitration provision. Arbitration is binding, and the parties are required to pay huge sums to a private lawyer who acts as "judge and jury" of the case. It is also secret, so the public does not have the benefit of the adjudication of legal issues. This is especially important in consumer cases, where thousands of people might be adversely affected and have comparatively small claims that, individually, cannot be litigated economically.

One danger of arbitration agreements is that they can be buried among verbose legal terms of consumer agreements, as well as in policy manuals depriving employees of their right to a jury if they are injured at work. Thus, completely unaware that valuable rights have been taken from them, and with no specific consideration paid to them for giving up that right, those bringing claims have been forced into private arbitrations. Not surprisingly, some research has confirmed that decisions from arbitrators tend to favor the defendants who supply them with repeat business, rather than injured workers or consumers who may only have one case.

Congress has passed a federal arbitration act. A few years ago, in the 2011 decision of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a telephone company could include provisions in its "legal terms" that defeats the effort to bring a "class action" suit on behalf of all similarly-affected consumers. This means that, in the event AT&T breaches its contract terms, each consumer must bring a separate claim, rather than join in the efficiency and power of a class action. Accordingly, companies like AT&T can now force each consumer into a separate arbitration.

Now, General Mills has gotten into the act, with an even more devious approach. According to Wednesday's New York Times, downloading a coupon, joining a Facebook community (or "liking" a product on Facebook), or even participating in a contest could take away a consumer's right to a jury. Further, the company could assert that simply purchasing a product from General Mills constitutes a jury waiver and an "agreement" to binding arbitration. Given that food safety directly affects the health of consumers, and that few would appreciate the legal significance of a term hidden in the "privacy" terms of a website, this is a dangerous precedent.

Because of adverse publicity from the article in the New York Times, General Mills reversed itself at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night before Easter. Its press release claimed its actions were misunderstood. That is exactly what was not the problem for General Mills: the problem was that people were, for once, being given an opportunity to understand its scheme to deprive consumers of their right to a jury. For now, General Mills has retreated. But we can expect other companies, and perhaps General Mills itself, to use the arbitration tactic to insulate themselves from responsibility when their actions and products hurt people. Imposed arbitration must be defeated.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information
  • $50+ Million Fire & Explosion

    The firm successfully represented nearly 100 victims who suffered personal injuries and damages to property from a large fire and explosion resulting in a settlement of more than $50 million. The firm served as lead lawyers on the steering committee in this litigation.

  • $80 Million Plant Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 270 plaintiffs, taking a lead role in the plaintiffs’ steering committee, who suffered injuries in a large plant explosion resulting in a settlement of nearly $80 million.

  • $50+ Million Plant Fire & Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 45 personal injury victims in a plant fire and explosion, serving on the plaintiffs steering committee, concluding with a settlement of more than $50 million.

  • $22+ Million Worksite Accident

    The firm prevailed in a personal injury trial for a worksite injury client with the jury returning a verdict and resulting in a judgment of over $22 million for the firm’s client.

  • $12 Million 18-Wheeler Collision

    The firm successfully achieved a $12 million settlement for the family of a man who died in an 18 wheeler collision.

  • $48 Million Catastrophic Burns

    The firm prevailed on behalf of three burn victims with settlements totaling nearly $48 million.

Our Record Of Success

When you are hurt and you choose a law firm to represent you in court or at the negotiation table, you need to carefully consider the firm's record.

Read More Success Stories

Let Us Help You Request a Free Consultation Today

Get Help Now

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information
disclaimer.

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.

close

Privacy Policy

Back to top