Arbitration Agreements: Sign on the Dotted Line???
Trial by jury is an important American right. It sets our system of justice apart from the rest of the world. The right to a jury trial is so important that our Founding Fathers codified it in the Bill of Rights. The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution states specifically that “the right of trial by jury shall be preserved…”
Consumers are increasingly being “asked” to waive their right to a jury trial and instead agree to arbitrate any disputes. Why is this important right under attack? Simply put, those who are “asking” consumers to waive their rights are afraid of the power of the American jury system. They seek to have disputes decided in arbitration, where they can help control who the decision-makers – the arbitrators – are going to be. Big business knows that it cannot control the American jury system and that juries will hold big business accountable when it cheats, injures, or kills consumers. Big business also knows that if it can handpick friendly referees, the contest is over before it even begins. After all, do you really believe they are “asking” for an agreement to arbitrate in order to help consumers?
When are arbitration agreements being sought? Common examples include admission to a nursing home and the purchase of a car. How is an arbitration agreement “asked” for? Typically, in one of the many forms most people do not even bother to read before signing. It is only later, after economic injury, personal injury or even wrongful death occurs, do many consumers even realize the significance of “signing on the dotted line.”
Several of our lawyers are active members of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). I have been honored to be on the Board of our local ABOTA Chapter for many years and served a term as its President. A national, invitation-only organization made up of leading lawyers and judges, ABOTA is dedicated to preserving the Seventh Amendment. ABOTA has noted that “Thomas Jefferson was of the opinion that the right to trial by a jury of fellow citizens was a more important safeguard of personal liberty than the right to vote. With a jury, the rights and duties of each of us will be decided by our fellow citizens, not by some bureaucrat or governmental functionary.”
The lawyers at Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith have tried hundreds of cases to juries. We believe in the American jury system. Although not perfect, it is the best system in the world. The American jury system provides victims of personal injury and wrongful death the opportunity to present the facts and let others in the local community decide the consequences.
So should you “sign on the dotted line” when presented with an arbitration agreement? NEVER. You are giving up an important right if you do.
Our lawyers stand ready to help you pursue justice if you or a loved one are injured through the negligence or abuse of another – even if you have already signed an arbitration agreement.
This blog is written by Partner Mickey Smith.