Mandatory Arbitration

It’s hard to do anything these days without signing some kind of contract. Want to start service with a cell phone provider? You’ll need to sign a contract. Ordering some kitchen appliances online? You have to scroll to the bottom of the company’s Terms of Service and check that box that says “I agree” first. Starting a new job? Plenty of paperwork and contracts to sign there too. We’ve become used to contracts; to seeing legal jargon everywhere we go and to needing to agree to it to do pretty much anything we want or need to do.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Contracts were initially used to protect both parties and provide guidelines to follow in the event that one or both parties were, for some reason, unpleased with the agreed upon transaction. They were meant to help make navigating any legal proceedings easier and less troublesome for everyone involved. In recent years though, corporations and employers have been slipping in arbitration clauses that not only make legal recourse impossible for the consumer, they protect the actions of the company regardless of whether they acted ethically or not.

What is Arbitration?

Simply put, arbitration is a means of solving disputes outside of the courtroom. If two parties have a disagreement, arbitration is used to find an unbiased solution to the problem. An arbitrator is like a middle man. They’re the one who listens to both sides’ stories and decides what the outcome of the dispute will be.

The above definition is rather broad, as there are several different forms of arbitration:

  • Mandatory: Disputes that fall under mandatory arbitration must be solved by arbitration. There are no other options. Both parties give up the right to sue, file a class action lawsuit, or even appeal the arbitrator’s decision.
  • Voluntary: This form only takes effect if both of the disgruntled parties agree to seek arbitration after the problem arises and/or after they have tried to solve it via other means.
  • Binding: In most cases, the decision resulting from a dispute solved with binding arbitration is permanent. It can only be altered by a court under specific circumstances, as in fraud or the misuse of power.
  • Non-binding: If the decision is non-binding, one or both parties may reject it and seek a trial in court instead. In many cases though, if both parties agree to the initial decision it can become binding.
  • Forced: This is, perhaps, the worst kind there is. Favoring the company and not the consumer, forced clauses are the ones you are required to agree to before you can receive the service or product you’re requesting.

Why and Where Are Arbitration Clauses Used?

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on forced arbitration and how it affects the individual. You see, consumers should have the right to sue a company or file a class action lawsuit if they believe they have been taken advantage of or treated unfairly. The reason companies like these clauses, is that it completely blocks the individual consumer from taking any legal action. While this should be totally illegal, according to the Supreme Court, it’s not.

The tricky thing is knowing when and where to look for these clauses. In many cases, you simply cannot get around having to agree to one if you want the service or product you’re trying to get. These agreements can be found in contracts for various industries, including but definitely not limited to:

  • Credit cards
  • Checking accounts
  • Fast cash loans
  • Prepaid cards
  • Student loans
  • Car loans
  • Cell phone service contracts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Employment agreements
  • Investment accounts
  • Nursing homes/facilities

How Does Arbitration Affect Consumers?

Corporations and businesses try to justify using these clauses by claiming that they save everyone far more time and money than a traditional lawsuit would and that, by extension, this lowers the cost of the product to the consumer. A research study performed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says otherwise, however. According to the study, the CFPB “found no evidence that arbitration clauses lead to lower prices for consumers.”

Not only does it not lower costs for the consumers, it’s not more convenient for them than a lawsuit would be either. Arbitration cases can take years to settle and are often held in a location that makes it difficult for the claimant to be present for the hearings. The biggest downside of arbitration is that it blocks consumers from forming the class action lawsuits that could not only be won, but could prevent the company in question from treating more consumers unfairly in the future. Without the right to band together to file a class action suit, consumers must fight corporations one-on-one, one by one; a very ineffective means of provoking substantial change.

How Much Does Arbitration Cost?

The cost of the arbitration itself is split, requiring the disgruntled or injured individual to shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars if they want to keep the case moving along. Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group, performed a study to compared the costs of arbitration to that of a court case.

In one of the examples given, a claim that is worth $80,000 would cost over $9,000 to arbitrate. That same claim would cost roughly $250 to file in a state court. Add to the cost the arbitration fees, which could easily surpass $10,000, administrative costs, and the fees you owe your attorney, and it becomes clear why arbitration is anything but good for the consumer.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

When something as damaging as arbitration is so widespread, it can be very difficult for consumers to protect themselves or fight back. That said, there are precautions you can you take to try to limit your exposure to arbitration, or at least understand your options a little bit better.

The following are tips given by ABC News in regards to mandatory arbitration protection:

  • Before signing any contract, scrutinize it thoroughly while looking for mandatory and/or binding arbitration clauses.
  • Some contracts allow for the consumer to opt out of mandatory arbitration. T-Mobile provides an excellent example of this as their terms and conditions state they allow their customers 30 days to opt out of their arbitration procedures. After that however, you’re locked in for good.
  • If you come across an arbitration clause that is too restrictive for your tastes, seek another company to do business with.
  • If opting out and finding an alternate company are not an option, make your opinions known before signing the contract. Consider crossing out the arbitration clause, writing something to the effect of, “I object to this mandatory arbitration clause, but am signing this contract because I am told I have no choice” and then initialing your statement.
  • Have you ever gotten a notice from a company notifying you of “changes to your contract”? This is an opportunity for them to sneak something in that was not part of your original agreement. Read the changes carefully.
  • In the event that a company files an arbitration case against you, don’t ignore it. Respond immediately with a written letter, send it via certified mail, and consider speaking to an attorney ASAP.

You may be a little flabbergasted after reading this, and rightly so. How can you help? Call your local congressman, or write him or her a letter calling for reform and requesting the passing of a law that would limit forced arbitration. Want arbitration to come to an end? It will be a long and hard fought battle, but there is power in numbers and if enough people act together, it may just work.

Brain Injuries Caused by Police Brutality

Police officers do a hard job. They’re tasked with patrolling our streets, keeping our neighborhoods safe, and protecting our families from danger. They’ve taken an oath to protect and serve, and accomplishing this goal requires them to be trusted with a certain amount of power and authority. The majority of police officers use their authority as they should, acting and making decisions in a manner that is ethical and unbiased against any race or creed. Unfortunately, not all are so honorable.

You see it on the news more and more each day; police officers taking unnecessary violent action in response to perceived threats that are often unfounded and individuals who are often unarmed. Activist groups like Black Lives Matter are calling more attention to the subject, but real progress has been hard fought and slow to come.  In the meantime, innocent individuals are suffering terrible injuries, not least of which is life long brain damage or Traumatic Brain Injuries. Not only can these injuries destroy lives and families, they have the potential to be fatal. Continue reading

Toy Recalls

It’s officially December and that means ‘tis the season for gift giving. If you’re one of those very organized people, you may have already started your holiday shopping, or even be done already. Some of us, however, are just getting started making lists and researching the best gifts to give our loved ones this year.

Purchasing gifts for adults is one thing; most are happy receiving clothes, gift cards, tools, or similarly useful household items. Buying gifts for kids though, is a different story entirely. Oftentimes their requests can be very specific or include toys that are difficult to find due to their popularity. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles everywhere find themselves frantically traversing cities, visiting multiple stores in the hope of finding the gift that will make this holiday the “best one ever.” Continue reading

Icy Road Driving Tips

As winter sets in the roads in Wisconsin will become more icy and dangerous. It is important to be as safe as possibly while driving this winter. Here are a few great driving tips for those icy roads!

Madison Icy Road Driving Tips


Icy Road Driving Tips:

  • Invest in Winter Tires
  • Don’t Use Cruise Control
  • Take it Easy on the Brakes
  • If You Start to Slide or Skid, Do NOT Brake
  • Keep an Eye Out for Black Ice
  • Double Your Following Distance
  • Use Low Beams for Better Road Visibility
  • Avoid Stopping While Traveling Uphill
  • Take it Easy There, Hoss!

Regardless of how prepared and caution people try to be, accidents do still happen. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident due to someone’s negligence, or icy roads, call the attorneys at Boller & Vaughan. They have been protecting the rights of injured people throughout Wisconsin, call (608) 268-0268 today for a free consultation!

Adopt a Shelter Dog

There isn’t anything that really compares to having a dog. They’re lovable, loyal, and they’re there to comfort you when you need it most. The ASPCA estimates that there are roughly 70-80 million dogs owned as pets in the United States, which means 37%-47% of all households have at least one dog.

When you get a dog, you make a commitment to care for them for the entirety of their life. It’s your job to love them, protect them, take care of them, and provide them with a forever home where they’re able to be happy and healthy. Unfortunately, many people who own dogs aren’t willing to fully commit to what dog ownership entails. There are a portion of people who decide that they need to get rid of their dog, either because they’re moving, caring for a dog is too difficult for them, or because the dog was a novelty as a puppy but is now grown, and no longer as “fun” as he used to be. Continue reading

Tips to Avoid ATV Accidents

We tend to be thrill seekers. Whether that urge is met through skydiving, riding roller coasters, or racing cars, we each have a preferred way to get our adrenaline fixes. Anyone who has ridden one can’t deny that ATV’s can be a lot of fun, but they can also be incredibly dangerous.

All Terrain Vehicles are also sometimes called four-wheelers or quads. They’re meant for use off road, so owners generally tend to live in more rural areas. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with owning or operating a vehicle like an ATV. They’re powerful, fast, and, unfortunately, notoriously unstable. Accidents can happen quickly and with little time to react, so we’ve compiled some tips that can help prevent ATV accidents. Continue reading

Premises Liability for Waterfront Homeowners

Wisconsin and waterfront property go hand in hand. Our state has the second largest Great Lakes coastline in the country with nearly 20% of Wisconsin’s geographic area being comprised of waterways. We may not have an ocean nearby, but our extensive network of rivers and lakes are among The Badger State’s greatest claims to fame. Some historians even believe that the name Wisconsin derives from a Native American phrase that translates as “where the waters gather!”

Here in Madison, we’re especially aware of Wisconsin’s waterways. There’s a reason that locals call it “The City of Four Lakes” and that the government’s go-to slogan is “Lake, City, Lake.” Our downtown is situated along an isthmus, sharing coastlines with Lakes Wingra, Kegonsa, Waubesa, Monona, and Mendota.

Continue reading

4th of July Sparkler Safety Infographic

Sparklers have become a regular part of celebrating the 4th of July, especially for children. Yet, Sparklers are known for causing injuries and can be extremely dangerous. How many times have you heard a parent say, “Don’t play with matches?” Matches can burn up to 500 Fahrenheit, and can cause severe burns or injuries. Sparklers on the other hand, burn almost 4X as hot with the extreme temperature being around 1,500-2,000 Fahrenheit.

4th of July firework safety tips

If you and your family are going to use Sparklers and/or fireworks this year, be sure to follow these basic safety tips!

  • Adults should supervise all firework activities- If you give your children a Sparkler, be sure to keep your children within seeing distance.
  • Use fireworks OUTDOORS only!
  • Always have a bucket of water, or a water hose nearby in case of accidents.
  • Do NOT experiment with homemade fireworks.
  • To dispose of used fireworks, wet them down and place them in a metal trash can away from the house and any combustible materials.
  • Never carry fireworks in your pocket.
  • Everyone should wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.
  • Always light 1 firework at a time, and move away quickly after lit.

2014 Car Fatality Infographic

The greatest cost of car accidents is human lives, and motor vehicle crashes continue to claim an average of more than 35,000 lives each year, according to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That agency also indicates that an additional 2.2 million people are injured in traffic accidents each year, and that these crashes cost nearly $1 trillion annually in injuries, loss of life, and property damage.

(Infographic after jump)

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5 Nursing Home Abuse Horror Stories

Despite increased awareness about nursing home abuse, as well as tougher federal regulations, the abuse and neglect of elderly patients remains a problem at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Wisconsin and across the country.

In fact, a recent article in USA Today indicates nearly one-third of the nation’s nursing homes received lower ratings on the federal government’s quality scale than they did the previous year. While the report suggests this is due to more stringent standards, it’s clear that there is still work to be done in safeguarding our elderly citizens who rely on the quality care these facilities are supposed to provide.

The Madison attorneys at Boller & Vaughan are dedicated to protecting the rights of nursing home residents. If you suspect a loved one is suffering from neglect or abuse in a nursing home or assisted-care center, please call us at 608-268-0268 for your free consultation with one of our experienced lawyers.

The Sad Consequences of Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

A 2013 report from Milwaukee’s Fox6 News focused on two Wisconsin nursing homes found to have consistently violated state and federal regulations regarding the care of elderly patients. One of the cases cited in the report became the subject of a high-profile wrongful death lawsuit and led to testimony before the Wisconsin Senate. Continue reading

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