Am I bound by an arbitration clause in a preprinted contract?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 22, 2012

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Usually, you are going to be bound by an arbitration clause, even if the agreement or the clause itself wasn’t expressly negotiated. Arbitration clauses have become very common and courts, on the whole, will tend to enforce one except in rare cases.

When You Might See an Arbitration Clause

An arbitration clause mandates that you submit a dispute to an arbitrator, instead of to the courts. When you buy a new car, health insurance or any other product that you have to sign a contract to buy, there is a good chance it has an arbitration clause included. This is the case because companies believe arbitration can protect them from large jury verdicts and that it often results in lower legal fees. 

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If a Dispute Arises

If a dispute does arise when you’ve signed an arbitration clause, it will then have to be submitted to a third party arbitrator who will make a decision that is binding on you and the other party. If you attempted to file a lawsuit based on the issue, then the other party would point to the arbitration clause and the court would usually require the dispute be arbitrated and would refuse to hear the case.

Exceptions

The only exception occurs when the terms are unconscionable and the contract was an adhesion contract. This means that the contract must have been one you had no opportunity to negotiate, and that the actual terms and requirements of the contract and arbitration are grossly biased and unfair. It will generally be your burden to prove these points if you want the court to decide not to enforce an arbitration clause that you’ve signed. 

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