Earlier last month, an appellate court in Louisiana issued a written opinion invalidating an arbitration clause in a case brought by the parents of a young child who was injured while at the defendant’s trampoline park. In the case, Alicea v. Activelaf, the court held that although the plaintiff voluntarily signed a contract containing a clause agreeing to arbitration, the clause was invalid, and therefore the defendant cannot demand arbitration.
The Aliceas planned on taking their two young boys to the defendant’s trampoline park. However, prior to allowing anyone access to the park, the defendant required that guests sign a “Participant Agreement, Release and Assumption of Risk.” This is common among pay-to-play activities, such as bungee jumping, water parks, and ski resorts. Essentially, these forms, if signed, give up certain rights the guest would otherwise have. Specific to this case, the contract contained a clause waiving the plaintiffs’ right to use the court system if any personal injury claims should arise during their visit. Instead of proceeding through court, the contract stated that the claims would be settled through arbitration.
Arbitration is an alternative to the court system, in which a single arbitrator or panel of arbitrators will make a decision on a plaintiff’s personal injury claim. Arbitration is usually binding, is much cheaper for sophisticated litigants, and tends to favor the companies that seek to compel it. Whenever possible, it is usually in a plaintiff’s interest to have a case filed in a court of law rather than through arbitration.