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Forced arbitration is another example of how corporations are taking advantage of Americans. As a private system without an impartial judge or a jury, mandatory arbitration allows companies like AIG to play by their own rules and escape accountability when they harm consumers and employees.

Did you know that every member of Kaiser Permanente Health Care System will be forced into an unfair and expensive mandatory arbitration/ That’s right. Lets say a child dies after being born when the kaiser doctor fails to recognize a life threatening medical condition. When the family asks kaiser to take responsibility _ doctors and hospitals as we all know – never – take responsibility for their errors _ the young couple will be barred from putting their case in front of a judge and jury, but will be forced to pay exhorbinant fees to an arbitration panel. Why? Because that is what the Kaiser contract says. I have never seem a case where the Kaiser member had ever been informed of this technicality in the fine print. I represented a school teacher once and it was in the contract between the DOE and Kaiser – the teacher had never seen it. Does that sound fair. No way. But that is what will happen to you if you have Kaiser Health Care.

Even if you refuse to sign a contract but show up for work or use a product or service, you can lose even the option of going to court. People who have been harmed by discrimination, negligence, defective products or scams should not be forced to sign their rights away.

Thankfully, there is already legislation moving through Congress to put an end to forced arbitration. The Arbitration Fairness Act would make mandatory binding arbitration unenforceable in civil rights, employment, consumer, and franchise disputes, but would not eliminate voluntary arbitration agreed to after a dispute arises.

This week, constituents from throughout the country who have been trapped in forced arbitration are on Capitol Hill with the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition to urge lawmakers to make the Arbitration Fairness Act law.

The petition already has collected nearly 5,000 signatures and their goal is to gather 25,000 signatures by April 29th when consumers and their advocates meet in D.C. to share stories and testimony with our Congressional leaders on National Arbitration Fairness Day.

The Fair Arbitration Now Coalition’s goal is to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act (H.R. 1020). The Act does not eliminate arbitration, it just makes it voluntary. In other words, big business can’t force you to sign away your right to hold them accountable for their wrongdoings, but a consumer can still choose arbitration.

The Arbitration Fairness Act would only restore the Federal Arbitration Act to what it was originally intended to do. Contrary to what the Chamber claims, forced arbitration has not been used for 80 years in consumer and employment contracts; it is business to business arbitration that has been used for 80 years. Corporations started using forced arbitration in consumer contracts beginning in the mid to late 1990’s, after court cases held that there was nothing in the Federal Arbitration Act that limited the use of forced arbitration to only business-to-business disputes. .

The Fair Arbitration Now coalition represents consumers, employees, homeowners, franchise holders and more. They range from Public Citizen, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Association of Justice to the National Consumer Voice for Long-Term Care, Home Owners for Better Building and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Join them in urging your members of Congress to enact the Arbitration Fairness Act now to protect the rights of employees and consumers by using the form below.

Forced arbitration clauses are often buried in the fine print of terms of agreement and contracts for employment, insurance, home-building, credit cards, or nursing facilities. We’re spending billions to bail the out many of companies writing these contracts – now is the time to put a stop to companies evading accountability, or our economy will only get worse.

Florida resident Denise Richardson warms consumers in that state about the evils of forced arbitration:

I can’t help but wonder what our founding fathers would think of this new method corporations have found to hide from accountability. Access to our judicial system is our most effective means of deterring fraud and holding wrongdoers accountable for harm their actions (or inactions) may have caused.

But, when a business includes a binding mandatory arbitration (BMA) requirement in its contract, it basically means if you have a dispute, it must be decided outside of the courts. Instead, those cases must be decided by arbitrators who are not bound by the Rule of Law that ensures consumers get a fair shake in the civil justice system.

And because BMA clauses are "binding," you must abide by the decision of the arbitrator. You have no right to appeal the decision.

These“You can’t sue me” clauses essentially mean that you waive your right to sue if a dispute arises–but the same doesn’t always apply to them. That’s right-the businesses that don’t want you suing them don’t waive their right to sue you. They only force you to waive your rights. It isn’t reciprocal. It’s a one way street, and they own the roadway.

Currently, most of us are bound by these clauses. They’re everywhere, tucked in the fine print of most contracts: health insurance,cell phone providers, car rentals, credit cards, nursing homes, employment, construction, home repair, and computer agreements – to name a few.

Without the threat of large fines or penalties for their potential negligence or recklessness, and without consumer access to the courts, corporations have little incentive to assume corporate responsibility. What will force them to take effective measures to ensure that our disputes are handled properly?

Denise is a consumer advocate:

The National Association of Consumer Advocates is gearing up for National Arbitration Fairness Day which will be April 29, 2009. NACA wants to take consumers to Washington, DC to share their stories with Congress and humanize the effects of binding mandatory arbitration clauses.

These BMA clauses seem particularly disturbing today given the state of our economy as lack of accountability and oversight helped get us here.Corporate accountability, transparency and responsibility are vital to our economic recovery. The explosion of BMA clauses only serve to provide an avenue of escape for those who wish to place themselves above the laws intended to protect us, and in doing so, further harms our economy and our very judicial system.

Denise Richardson, whose picture graces this post, is a consumer advocate, author and regular contributor to this blog. Are you dealing with an arbitration clause in a contract? Would you like more information about your rights as a consumer? Please share your thoughts here, or conact her at

I do not believe that the public is generally aware of the evils of forced arbitration or that it is a tool of giants like AIG and Kaiser Permanente Health Care and many other HMO’s and doctors’ groups. have you ever heard of this? Does it bother you? Let me know what you think?

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