Arbitration Agreements: Read the Fine Print

Published: Nov. 21, 2012 at 3:55 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 22, 2012 at 4:15 AM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Be careful what you sign the next time to you buy a car. You could be giving up your legal rights if something goes wrong. Consumer Attorney, John Gayle, The Consumer Law Group, says many people sign it and don't even know it, it's called an Arbitration Clause. If you sign it, you may have problems if something goes wrong. "They have waived their right to a trial, waived their right to confront the dealership in court and then they are forced into this arbitration system where the arbitrator is chosen by the dealership" Gayle explains.

Gayle says he's sounding the alarm as a warning that if you do sign it and have a problem, don't expect any help from the legal system. Virginia courts will honor the arbitration agreement. It's up to you to understand what you are signing. "I don't care whether it is in capital letters or not, nobody is reading it because they are not expecting it and some of them are in front, some of them are on the back, some of them are 10 pages in" Gayle says.

We took these concerns to Don Hall, President and CEO of The Virginia Auto Dealers Association. He sees the agreements from a different perspective. "The bottom line is this, arbitration agreements are very cost effective to you the consumer. They are much quicker in solving the problem and often times bring the parties to the table so much quicker, so you can go out and enjoy that brand new car," he says.

Both Hall and Gayle do agree, the reason for these arbitration agreements is to prevent an overload of lawsuits in the court system. Hall stresses the agreements are not meant to deceive or trap consumers. "It is in the best interest of my car dealers throughout The Common wealth of Virginia, to always solve a problem as quickly as possible and to benefit the consumer. We cannot survive without consumers. We don't want unhappy consumers," Hall explains.

Consumer advocates say your number one option is to say no -- and not sign the agreement. Hall agrees. "It is then up to the dealer to decide wether or not they want to sell the car without an arbitration agreement in that transaction. They are not required by law," Hall says.

Consumer groups are working to get laws on the books that would prohibit the agreements in consumer contracts but don't expect any changes soon. "It is a real fight. I am not holding my breath," Gayle says. Another reminder to read the find print. Earlier this year, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau  launched a public inquiry into arbitration clauses.

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