When a Phony Relationship Becomes a Contract

We all sign contracts with vendors, credit card companies, utilities and of course banks. Lots of fine print in there and we generally don’t read them closely. Even if we did we have little hope of actually understanding them.

With the recent Wells Fargo scandal where the company admitted to opening potentially millions of unauthorized accounts, customers noticed this activity and sued. It’s just business as usual, right?

Well, not quite because almost all of these suits were turned away by judges citing “unfavorable contractual language” customers must agree to when doing business with the San Francisco bank (basically to settle all claims via arbitration and out of court). But if the account is phony, are the terms and conditions also void?  Hmmmm…

Your buds in Sacramento the California lawmakers (not to be confused with the California Raisins who did such a nice rendition of Heard it Through the Grapevine) are working on a new law that could allow such cases to proceed. But it’s possible that the state plan will run afoul of federal law — or be rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“What’s happened is, this bank has used this forced arbitration when they fraudulently set up other accounts with customers,” said California State Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the lead author of a bill that would aim to end the practice. “I take the viewpoint that those are not legitimate accounts that fall under the terms of the contract.”

This one should be interesting to watch as it plays out later this year and we’ll keep you posted right here on the blog. Disputes are as common as the terms and conditions we almost never read. And when they affect YOUR business including landlord/tenant matters, contract disputes and even some collections, you need a business litigator who reads and understands all of the terms and conditions out there, Dean Sperling, to resolve YOUR matter with YOUR best interests in mind.

More on the case

California lawmakers want to rein in Wells Fargo’s arbitration clause. But can they?