Letter to the Editor: Arbitration's asterisk

Belleville News Democrat
Thursday, August 28, 2008

The success of the arbitration program in Madison County, written about on Aug. 2, has some people calling for more arbitration in place of courts.
However, there is a fine line between helpful arbitration programs like the one in Madison County, and arbitration programs that deprive consumers of their rights. People planning to expand the Madison County program need to keep this fact in mind.

Businesses increasingly insert binding arbitration clauses into contracts. These agreements force consumers to bring disputes before specified arbitration courts. While the arbiters are often untrained and hand-selected by the businesses, their judgments are final, meaning consumers cannot take their case to court.
Most Illinois consumers have already agreed some type of binding arbitration clause, perhaps unknowingly. They can be hidden in the fine print of credit card, automobile, and real estate agreements, employment contracts, and insurance policies.

Media campaigns by big business have pushed the idea that binding arbitration works no differently than arbitration programs like Madison County's, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Federal lawmakers have the chance to protect consumers from harmful arbitration with bills such as the Arbitration Fairness Act (S.1782 and H.R.3010) and the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act (S. 2838 and H.R. 6126). In the meantime, Illinois consumers and public officials must be wary of this assault on our right to access the civil justice system.

Eric Bell
Center for Justice & Democracy-Illinois

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