Arbitration Includes Physical Assault and Home Invasion

For a few years now, consumers have been shocked to find that the fine print in contracts has forced their claim out of court and into private, secret arbitration. Common sense would say, Sure, but that just means disputes relating to the product, right? I mean, it's not like a debt collector could come to your house and beat you up -- that would surely still be a civil suit heard in court.

Wrong. At least in Missouri. An 88 year old man rented a refrigerator from Rent-A-Center and called the company twice to service it. The repair guy came a third time, wearing a Rent-A-Center uniform, and beat him and robbed him, leaving him injured on the floor for three days before he was discovered. The assailant has been charged with a crime, but the civil suit against Rent-A-Center for negligent hiring, failure to supervise, failure to screen for criminal history -- off to arbitration.

Even the question of how to interpret the contract to see whether it belongs in arbitration or not is a question for the arbitrator, says the Missouri Court of Appeals. Hardly unbiased, right? Let me ask you to determine whether or not you can hear a case, and if you say yes, you'll get to charge $500 per hour with a $2,000 non-refundable minimum.

Forced arbitration is private judging and private law isn't really law. It's not unbiased, it's not public, it's not really justice -- no matter what result is obtained. The process in how you get there makes all the difference in the world.