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July 23, 2012 / Admin

Bank of America’s Decision to Drop Arbitration Requirement Only the First Step in Protecting Consumers’ Rights

When Bank of America announced that it will no longer require customers to settle disputes with the company through arbitration, rather than being able to go to court, many saw it as a victory for consumers.  However, as David Lazarus reported in Sunday’s edition of the LA Times, Bank of America’s decision to drop the arbitration requirement does not mean that it is ending its prohibition on customers joining class action lawsuits.  Betty Riess, a Bank of America spokesperson, told Lazarus, “We aren’t addressing the class-action waivers as part of [the decision regarding arbitration].  We will preserve the class-action waivers in our agreements.”

Class action waivers prevent individuals from joining with other individuals with similar complaints to sue a company.  As Lazarus noted, class actions are arguably the best tool many consumers have to address problems involving relatively small amounts of money as, often, individual lawsuits can cost more to resolve than the amount under dispute, effectively precluding consumers from seeking redress.

In California, class action waivers in consumer contracts may be unenforceable, especially where they violate public policy (such as where the waiver is included in a contract’s fine print).  See Discover Bank v. Superior Court (Boehr), 36 Cal.4th 148, 158-160 (2005).  However, many states permit class action waivers in consumer contracts.  Thus, Bank of America’s decision is just the first step in protecting consumers’ rights.

 

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