While waiving the right to sue is common in contract negotiations and even in employment agreements, in the future consumers could waive their right to sue with the click of a button. Following a decision by a California district judge that refused to dismiss a class action lawsuit against General Mills, the company has altered its legal terms to stymie court action by consumers.
General Mills alerted customers to the changes via its website on April 15. The updated legal terms require customers to agree to use arbitration or negotiations to settle any legal issues before they are permitted to download coupons, join affiliated communities or even making purchases on the General Mills website. A banner at the top of the website alerts visitors to these changes and provides a link to details.
In a release on the changes, General Mill’s said that customers agree to these terms, “in exchange for the benefits, discounts, content, features, services, or other offerings that you receive or have access to by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering.”
New York Times reports that General Mills has yet to comment further.
Forced arbitration agreements are not uncommon in other industries; similar terms usually accompany cellphone service contracts and credit card applications. Even more business have adopted the practice following the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in AT&T mobility LLC v. Concepcion, which held that having contractual obligations that required users to wave their rights to join class action lawsuits was acceptable under current law.
But the move by General Mills could mark a more aggressive expansion of the strategy into the food space, especially given the exploding volume of labeling and “all natural” lawsuits pending in California. Another case currently awaiting Supreme Court comment could rule when regulatory agency approval prevents a federal false advertising claim, which could add to food companies legal woes.
Whether or not the very wide legal terms are defensible has yet to be seen, but with the an increasingly aggressive plaintiff’s bar pursuing food and beverage claims it’s probably a safe bet we’ll find out sooner than later.
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