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Consumer Rights Lesson for Wyomingites ... in a Bowl of Cereal

PHOTO: The small print is getting trickier these days, with forced arbitration clauses even popping up in social media via breakfast cereal, according to Devon O'Connell, president of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
PHOTO: The small print is getting trickier these days, with forced arbitration clauses even popping up in social media via breakfast cereal, according to Devon O'Connell, president of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
May 6, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Forced arbitration for "liking" a brand of cereal on Facebook sparked consumer outrage, but the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association warns that there are other ways those agreements are being foisted on consumers, and most people have no idea. President Devon O'Connell says General Mills did the right thing in removing a forced arbitration clause for those who clicked "like" for their brands on social media. But she warns that the issue is far more serious than cereal.

"It takes all the rights of a consumer completely away. So it can be even dangerous," O'Connell says, "if your child is in a camp, or your parent is in a nursing home, you're talking about pretty serious stuff can happen there."

In forced arbitration, O'Connell explains, corporations pick the arbitrator, and their decision is final. Going to court is not an option. Companies assert that they need protection from lawsuits and control of legal expenses.

O'Connell personally doesn't use products or services that require forced arbitration. She admits it's not easy, though, and constant vigilance is needed because the clause can be tucked into a "privacy update" or other communication, especially with credit cards.

"It's buried in there if you use our card again, ever, then you agree to forced arbitration. Even there, it's not really an affirmative 'yes, check the box.' So they're slid in everywhere," she warns.

O'Connell wants consumers to complain to companies about the practice, noting that public outcry did cause General Mills to change its practices and issue an apology to its customers.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY