Delaying Justice For All

Victim: Hello, I would like to report a robbery. My stuff has been stolen from me.

Dispatcher: ‎Have you given the robber a chance to return your property?

Victim: …

Dispatcher: I’m sorry but we can’t help you until you wait 45 days for the criminal to make it right.

Corporations have done a tremendous job of creating an obstacle course in order to deny consumers justice. From hiding the terms and conditions for dispute resolution on its website to not providing contact information for the legal department, companies are masters of avoiding liability. Have a claim against Enterprise Rent-A-Car? Good luck trying to find out how to file a claim. Shut down by Capital One, all the best trying to figure out where to file a claim.

Assuming the consumer survives the gauntlet of hurdles cunningly placed to thwart meritorious claims, the consumer may encounter this curious provision, “You and [INSERT COMPANY NAME] agree to make attempts to resolve the dispute prior to commencing an arbitration. If an agreement cannot be reached within forty-five (45) days of receipt of the Notice of Dispute, you may commence an arbitration proceeding. If there is not a resolution within the forty-five (45) days of receipt of the Notice of Dispute, [INSERT COMPANY NAME] will pay for the arbitration including the consumer’s filing fee.”

The notice of dispute requirement is mind-boggling because the consumer has spent months trying to find a resolution before considering legal action. More time passing does little, if anything, to resolve the problem. After the notice period has expired, these are the likely outcomes:

  1. The company denies any wrongdoing and the arbitration, which would have already been underway, ‎finally proceeds forward.

In a dispute with American Express for failing to honor a sign up bonus, the company requested 30 days before commencing an arbitration proceeding because it claimed that, ‎”Investigating this matter would take some time as the company’s records are stored in a variety of departments.‎” In my client’s case, the grace period came and went without an amicable resolution.

  1. The company denies any wrongdoing and offers a nominal amount to settle the case so long as the client is sworn to secrecy.

In a claim against eBay for fraudulent gift cards, eBay denied any wrongdoing and refunded the loss to the client. In exchange, the client had to sign a confidentiality agreement.

  1. The company, without notice, reimburses the client the funds directly into his or her account, effectively making the claim moot as the client can no longer show a loss.

In a dispute with StubHub which incorrectly charged the client, a seller of tickets, for not fulfilling the order, I sent a notice of dispute on behalf of my client. Magically, within weeks of sending that letter, the client’s account was credited. Satisfied with the adjustment, the consumer dropped the claim despite StubHub’s questionable behavior.

  1. The company admits fault and offers to reimburse the ‎consumer for the amount incorrectly charged.

Wireless providers like Sprint and cable providers like Comcast are notorious for incorrectly billing a consumer’s account. When the consumer catches the error, the provider credits the account for the overbilling, hoping that this action settles the issue.

Like the example in the introduction, each of these outcomes is ridiculous in its own right. The first outcome is frustrating because the client’s patience proves futile as the company rarely resolves the problem during the moratorium on filing. In the second outcome, the company prevents the result from going public which does not help countless others who have the same or similar problems. The third outcome is a cunning maneuver by the corporation because crediting the consumer’s account essentially nullifies the claim. The fourth outcome is the most absurd. Just like a defendant in a robbery case cannot argue that he returned the merchandise after he was caught, a company cannot simply give back  the money improperly taken and argue that it did nothing wrong.

Based on these experiences, I now forgo the bogus ‘notice of dispute’ requirement. Instead, I pay the filing fee on behalf of my client, initiate the arbitration claim immediately, and advise my client not to speak to the corporation directly. This strategy has proven to be much more effective than a strongly worded letter that does nothing to curb a company’s egregious behavior.

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