Dispute Resolution Programs
Some companies and industries offer programs to address disagreements between buyers and sellers. The auto industry has several of these programs. The National Association of Security Dealers offers a program designed to resolve investment-related disputes. Some small claims courts also offer a dispute resolution program as an alternative to a trial.
Mediation, arbitration, and conciliation are three common types of dispute resolution. During mediation, both sides involved in the dispute meet with a neutral third party and create their own agreement jointly. Arbitration uses a different approach—the third party decides how to settle the problem.
Request a copy of the rules of any program before making a decision to participate. You will want to know beforehand if the decision is binding. Some programs do not require both parties to accept the decision. Also ask whether participation in the program place any restrictions on your ability to take other legal action. The American Bar Association publishes a directory of state and local dispute resolution programs.
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Mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts prevent you from filing a lawsuit against a company. These clauses are fairly common in automotive, credit card, and cell phone contracts. But now, they are appearing in website terms and conditions statements, coupons, or corporate social media profiles. While arbitration can be less expensive, it is sometimes seen as unfair to make arbitration a requirement before a negative incident has happened or knowing how serious the problem is. Also, the decisions are binding, so you can’t appeal the decision, even if the company was severely negligent.
Before you sign a contract or even use a website, read the contract or terms of service for mentions of “arbitration”, “binding arbitration” or “resolution programs”; this language is often in the fine print of the contract and can be easily missed. Also, note that some companies may let you opt-out of these clauses, if you do so within 30 days.
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