by Paul Bland
Although most people haven’t heard of it, they have a big stake in the integrity and honesty of the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”). The reason is simple: it’s rapidly gaining more and more power over Americans. More and more big corporations insist that their customers and employees sign mandatory arbitration agreements taking away their right to go to court as a condition of getting goods or services or as a condition of getting or keeping a job. And of the private corporations that are increasingly replacing the American civil justice system, the AAA is the most prominent and largest.
To allay the concerns expressed by many consumers, employees, legislatures and courts, the AAA has repeatedly promised that Americans need not worry about the growing power of arbitrators, because the AAA will purportedly exercise great restraint in the exercise of its power. Alas, talk is cheap.
In a number of public statements over the last four years, the AAA has solemnly promised the public, the media and legislators that notwithstanding any contract agreements to the contrary, it would not handle pre-dispute binding arbitrations in cases brought by medical patients against health care institutions. But, I have just learned of a serious instance where the AAA has quietly broken that widely trumpeted promise. Apparently, the AAA is administering arbitrations in medical cases when it feels like doing so.