by: Lynn Toops, Attorney

How much time do you think the average consumer spends reading the contracts they sign or agree to (and whether they realize it or not consumers sign or agree to contracts all the time)? In a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found American Internet users could spend on average 201 hours a year reading all the privacy policies presented to them by businesses. Given this information, it’s no surprise that many of us don’t take the time to read an entire contract. So what are we risking by not reading? Unfortunately, a lot. In these contracts, companies are constantly trying to take away a consumer’s right to a jury trial through forced arbitration or a consumer’s ability to bring a class action through a forced class action waiver.

But what if a company tried to take away those rights without having a consumer sign or agree to a contract? Is it possible for you to lose your rights as a consumer even when you didn’t sign a Cereal and Class Actionscontract? What if the manufacturer of your box of Count Chocula tried to force you to resolve your potential legal issue via “informal negotiation” or arbitration?

That’s exactly what General Mills attempted to do last week when it quietly updated its legal policies. According to an article in the New York Times, visitors to the General Mills website were informed of this new policy by a small gray bar posted across the top of the homepage. The new policy asserted that actions like downloading coupons, entering sweepstakes, or joining a General Mills online community would require consumers to resolve disputes through informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration rather than filing a lawsuit.

When this information spread, consumers voiced outrage against this display of corporate power and took to social media. Within days, General Mills reverted back to its prior Terms of Service, apologized to consumers, and explained that many other companies use arbitration clauses in contracts before adding, “Not that any of that matters now,” since the original Terms of Service have been reinstated.

What happened on social media is the pop culture equivalent of a class action lawsuit. Consumers stood up and told General Mills that the company cannot strip them of their rights. This reaction demonstrates the power that individuals can have when they band together to fight for justice.

As a class action attorney, I fight for consumers every day. Whether it’s a case against a governmental agency that is overcharging consumers or an insurance provider that failed to safeguard against identity theft of their clients, I work to ensure that people can get their day in court—and that’s what matters. Contact us for a free consultation.

(photo credit: Evan-Amos)