The Searle Civil Justice Institute at Northwestern University School of Law is out with a new study on consumer arbitration that should serve as a valuable corrective to the organized plaintiff's bar's running campaign for legislation aimed at returning consumers to the arena of litigation as their clients. From the "Summary of Key Findings":
The upfront cost of arbitration for consumer claimants in cases administered by the AAA appears to be quite low.
In cases with claims seeking less than $10,000, consumer claimants paid an average of $96 ($1 administrative fees + $95 arbitrator fees). This amount increases to $219 ($15 administrative fees + $204 arbitrator fees) for claims between $10,000 and $75,000. These amounts fall below levels specified in the AAA fee schedule for low-cost arbitrations, and are a result of arbitrators reallocating consumer costs to businesses.
AAA consumer arbitration seems to be an expeditious way to resolve disputes.
The average time from filing to final award for the consumer arbitrations studied was 6.9 months.
Consumers won some relief in 53.3% of the cases they filed and recovered an average of $19,255; business claimants won some relief in 83.6% of their cases and recovered an average of $20,648.
The average award to a successful consumer claimant in the sample was 52.1% of the amount claimed and to a successful business claimant was 93.0% of the amount claimed. This result appears to be driven by differences in types of claims initiated by consumers and business.
No statistically significant repeat-player effect was identified using a traditional definition of repeat-player business.
Consumer claimants won some relief in 51.8% of cases against repeat businesses under a traditional definition (i.e., businesses who appear more than once in the AAA dataset) and 55.3% against non-repeat businesses - a difference that is not statistically significant.
Utilizing an alternative definition of repeat player, some evidence of a repeat-player effect was identified; the data suggests this result may be due to better case screening by repeat players.
71.1% of consumer claims against repeat businesses so defined were resolved prior to an award, while only 54.6% of claims against non-repeat businesses were resolved prior to an award. This suggests that such effect is attributable to better case screening by repeat players (i.e., settling stronger consumer claims and arbitrating weaker claims).
A substantial majority of consumer arbitration clauses in the sample (76.6%) fully complied with the Due Process Protocol when the case was filed.
The same is true for cases in which protocol compliance was a matter for the arbitrator to enforce.
AAA's review of arbitration clauses for protocol compliance was effective at identifying and responding to clauses with protocol violations.
In 98.2% of cases in the sample subject to AAA protocol compliance review, the arbitration clause either complied with the Due Process Protocol or the non-compliance was properly identified and responded to by the AAA.
The AAA refused to administer a significant number of consumer cases because of Protocol violations by businesses.
In 2007, the AAA refused to administer at least 85 consumer cases, and likely at least 129 consumer cases (9.4% of its consumer case load), because the business failed to comply with the Consumer Due Process Protocol.
As a result of AAA's protocol compliance review, some businesses modify their arbitration clauses to make them consistent with the Consumer Due Process Protocol.
In response to AAA review, more than 150 businesses have either waived problematic provisions on an ongoing basis or revised arbitration clauses to remove provisions that violated the Consumer Due Process Protocol.