MORIARTY, DIEGNAN & BARNES BILLS TO ENSURE CONSUMERS ARE TREATED FAIRLY IN DISPUTES PUSHED BY ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE

(TRENTON) — Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democratic lawmakers Paul D. Moriarty, Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. and Peter J. Barnes III to help consumers combat a system that has given unscrupulous businesses the advantage in contract disputes was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

The three-bill package is meant to combat anti-consumer language in the fine print of consumer contracts that make it difficult for consumers to resolve disputes.

“Consumers know full well, unfortunately, the frustration that builds when language found deep within the fine print of contracts purposefully makes it difficult to easily and readily resolve disputes,” said Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden). “Residents and businesses that play by the rules deserve better, and that’s why this bill package is aimed solely at protecting the rights of consumers.”

“This bill package is designed, quite simply, to promote fairness for consumers,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Companies with sound and fair contracts have nothing to worry about. These bills are aimed squarely at companies that intentionally try to make it tough on consumers to resolve disputes.”

“Consumers deserve fair consideration when it comes to resolving these disputes,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex). “Being forced to travel out-of-state or pay exorbitant arbitration fees is not fair consideration. This bill targets unreasonable provisions for the benefit of consumers and companies concerned about customer service.”

The bills were advanced by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee chaired by Moriarty.

One bill (A-3433) prohibits terms and conditions in a consumer contract that require the dispute be resolved in a venue, forum or jurisdiction outside of New Jersey, assuring that consumers aren’t forced by businesses to resolve disputes in distant and costly forums.

Consumer contracts increasingly contain forum-selection clauses that require litigation or arbitration to take place outside New Jersey, making dispute resolution costly and difficult for consumers.

These contracts are typically standardized forms drafted with no input from the consumer, and are offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Another bill (A-3434) amends and supplements the current arbitration law in New Jersey to protect consumers from contracts that are unconscionable.

Many consumer contracts contain arbitration agreements that may be unconscionable due to several factors.

This bill outlines the various factors of unconscionability for a court reviewing a contract containing an arbitration agreement, and supplements the arbitration law by giving a list of factors that courts can look to when determining whether an arbitration agreement is unconscionable.

Lastly, another bill (A-3435) supplements the current arbitration law in New Jersey to regulate arbitration organizations.

Increasingly, when a contract is signed between an individual and a business in a consumer transaction, the contract contains an arbitration clause that requires an arbitration organization to administer the arbitration.

The arbitration organization will typically dictate the rules governing the dispute and how the arbitrator is chosen. Under New Jersey’s current law, there are rules governing arbitrators and arbitration generally, but there are no rules regulating arbitration organizations.

This bill prohibits a neutral arbitrator or arbitration organization from administering any consumer arbitration that requires a non-prevailing consumer who is a party to the arbitration to pay the opposing party’s costs or fees.

The bill requires an arbitration organization to waive the fees and costs of arbitration, exclusive of arbitrator fees, for an indigent consumer.

The bill also requires an arbitration organization to provide written notice to any consumer of the right to obtain a fee waiver and to keep specified information concerning a consumer confidential.