The United States Supreme Court has held that merchants who seek to bring antitrust claims against American Express can’t join together in a class action, even though they all have similar claims, and even though the merchants say it would be cost-prohibitive for them to bring individual claims against the company. The reason: the businesses had all signed arbitration agreements with American Express. The decision can be found here. Writing for the Court, Justice Antonin Scalia stated that the federal antitrust laws “do not guarantee an affordable procedural path” to vindication of a plaintiff’s rights.
Many people sign arbitration agreements, when they go to the doctor, or when they buy other services. If the agreement is valid, it may mean that you cannot sue in court if you are wronged. Arbitration is an expensive way to resolve a dispute, since each side has to pay the arbitrator, who acts as a judge, but is usually an attorney. In court, judges work for the public, and while the losing side may have to pay court costs, they will not have to pay the judge’s salary. If you are asked to sign a document with an arbitration requirement in it, see if the company giving you the document insists on keeping the arbitration clause, and remember that arbitration may mean that you can’t go to court if you are later injured.