One of the most prevalent fantasies of the last twenty years or so is that you can get rich off a massive lawsuit, and frivolous lawsuits are filed all the time. That’s actually far from the truth, but one thing is true: Major corporations would prefer not to spend money on lawyers. So they’re getting sneaky about their legal policies, but General Mills might just take the cake.
Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.
In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.
In other words, General Mills wants to keep you away from the courts, where they might lose, and force you into “binding arbitration”, where they hire the company and pay all the bills. If that sounds like a situation where the deck might be ever-so-slightly stacked against the consumer, why, yes, that is indeed the case.
This raises a few concerns, not the least of which is that if General Mills accidentally kills somebody, or some insane employee ships out a big pallet of Arsenic Crunch, the company basically has said to consumers “You eat our products at your own risk.” Somewhat lost in all the ranting about tort reform is the fact that punitive damages are supposed to make an example of companies that screw up and prevent them from disclaiming responsibility. From a corporate perspective it makes sense to try and limit your liability, but from a consumer perspective, “caveat emptor” as corporate policy doesn’t really inspire a lot of confidence.
In the long run, it’s probably moot: General Mills probably is not going to get its way once this policy is tested. Until then, though, you might consider buying the off-brand cereal that comes in the massive plastic bags: At least those guys might be honest about their mistakes.