Cereal giant General Mills recently updated its legal policies to decree that if you, the happy consumer, download any GM coupons, like any of their Facebook pages, or participate in their contests, you officially waive your right to sue them in court. Take a bow, #brands.
According to the new privacy rules posted on its website, interacting in any way with a General Mills product forbids consumers from suing in cases in which serious problems arise; for example, a mislabeled ingredient list fails to mention a product contains peanuts. Instead, these consumers will be pushed into "forced arbitration," The New York Times reports, a tactic often used by corporations to protect them from finicky juries and stricter standards of liability.
"It’s essentially trying to protect the company from all accountability, even when it lies, or say, an employee deliberately adds broken glass to a product," arbitration expert Julia Duncan told The Times.
These new provisions contain an agreement to resolve any and all disputes you may have with General Mills or any of its affiliated companies or brands contain through informal negotiations and, if these negotiations fail, through binding arbitration. This includes disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service. All arbitrations will be conducted on an individual basis; you may not arbitrate as a member of a class. Claims may not be brought in court (with the limited exception of small claims court in certain circumstances), nor may you participate in any class action litigation.
Emphasis added. Based on those rules, arbitration must be one-on-one between the consumer and the company, and not in court. The problem for consumers, though, is that the "one" is actually a high-powered company with corporate lawyers.
Indeed, you don't even need to have liked a General Mills company on Facebook or have downloaded a coupon for this to apply. "Your use of any of our sites or services, or participation in any other General Mills offering, means that you are agreeing to these Legal Terms," the updated policy notes. Just clicking through to that link might be considered "use" of a General Mills site, thus binding you to never being able to sue. Scott Nelson, a lawyer at the advocacy group Public Citizen, told the Times that he doubted just visiting a site would invalidate suing abilities. "[B]ut we really don’t know," he added.
As several people have noted, that terms of service disclaimer is so broad and restrictive that it might not stand up in a court of law under closer inspection. But until someone challenges it and beats the big corporate bad guy, you might want to be more careful with the Cheerios, Betty Crocker, or Nesquik Facebook pages.