How Clicking On A Website’s “Terms of Service” Means Signing Away Your Legal Right To Sue
Everyone has clicked a checkbox stating they agree to certain “terms of service” when purchasing goods or services online. Most of us never bother to actually read those terms. Unfortunately, these terms often include legal language that affect your rights under state and federal law. And the fact that you did not read these terms before clicking does not mean they cannot be enforced against you in court.
Florida Supreme Court Rules for Airbnb in Arbitration Dispute
Indeed, a recent decision from the Florida Supreme Court hits home just how these “clickwrap” agreements can affect basic rights like the ability to have a dispute heard in court. This case, Airbnb, Inc. v. Doe, involved a Texas couple who used the popular short-term rental website Airbnb to book a stay at a Florida condominium.
Airbnb is a platform that allows individual property owners to advertise and book rooms for short-term rentals. In this case, the owner who rented the plaintiffs’ room had, without their knowledge, installed hidden cameras throughout the condo. According to the plaintiffs, the owner recorded their entire visit, including “some private and intimate moments.” When the plaintiffs learned of this, they sued both the property owner and Airbnb for “intrusion,” which is a type of tort (personal injury) claim recognized under Florida law.
In response, Airbnb moved to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s dispute. Airbnb pointed to its terms of service, which the plaintiffs had to click their consent to when setting up their Airbnb account. The relevant terms state that any “dispute, claim, or controversy” arising from their use of Airbnb must be resolved through “binding arbitration” administered under the rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Those rules, in turn, provide that the arbitrator–not a judge–has the authority to determine whether or not any claims are subject to arbitration.
It was this rule that triggered the Florida Supreme Court’s involvement in the case. An intermediate appellate court held that merely referring to the AAA rules did not constitute a “clear and unmistakable” agreement to “arbitrate the threshold question of arbitrability” of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. In other words, the intermediate court believed a judge should first decide whether the plaintiff’s claims were even subject to arbitration.
The Supreme Court disagreed. It held that under federal law, which strongly favors arbitration, Airbnb’s terms of service properly incorporated the AAA rules as part of the overall agreement. That incorporation was “sufficient to clearly and unmistakably evidence the parties’ intent” to have the arbitrator decide the scope of arbitration rather than a judge.
Speak with a Florida Consumer Protection Lawyer Today
It may seem unfair to bind someone to an agreement they have never read, much less understood, but the law often favors the sanctity of contracts over all other concerns. That is why if you are involved in a dispute with a business it is imperative that you seek out legal advice from an experienced Sarasota consumer protection attorney. Contact Suncoast Civil Law today to schedule a free case evaluation with a member of our team.