There are times when companies’ efforts to escape responsibility for their misdeeds borders on the absurd – this is one of those times.
As reported in the New York Times yesterday, General Mills appears to be the first food company to add language to their website indicating that individuals, “give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, ‘join’ it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.” Yep – download a fifty cent coupon and General Mills takes the position that you no longer have the right to sue them in a court of law, no matter how egregious their conduct. As pointed out by Julia Duncan, director of federal programs and an arbitration expert at the American Association for Justice, this move is an effort by General Mills and other companies who adopt similar policies to shield themselves “from all accountability, even when it lies, or say, an employee deliberately adds broken glass to a product.”
General Mills is not alone; according to the article, other companies have adopted similar policies but food companies are different because their negligence can lead particularly dire consequences, even death. As pointed out in the Times, “What if a child allergic to peanuts ate a product that contained trace amounts of nuts but mistakenly did not include that information on its packaging? Food recalls for mislabeling, including failures to identify nuts in products, are not uncommon.”
We find it difficult to believe that courts will uphold these waivers unless companies can demonstrate that the individual consumer was actually aware of the policy but every consumer should carefully consider if they really want to download a coupon or click a Facebook “like” button – that simple, seemingly fun and harmless act may be far more harmful to you and your legal rights than you ever imagined.