As of late, I have been thinking about different ways that we sign away our freedoms every day to more easily participate in the modern world. Depending on the need, some would say we forcibly give away these rights to participate. Though I am conscious in some small way of doing this, am I knowingly and voluntarily signing these waivers and generalized terms and agreements? Whether it be software I need in the office to efficiently complete my work, to my own spare time where, as a relatively newly married person, I find myself making decisions like, “Should I save up and buy the new washer and dryer outright or should I sign a seemingly beneficial lease agreement?” After all, my clothes need to be washed now and there is seemingly as much of an investment of time and money to fill my car with gas and take my clothes to the laundromat over the time it will take to save the money.
Little do I realize as I am signing all of the paperwork and thinking about the cost-effectiveness of a method of purchase and how I’ll get the washer and dryer down my narrow basement stairs, that in most leasing agreements such as these, there is in fact boilerplate language that – as I sign the dotted line - waives my right to a jury trial. Such a legal state is not something most consumer companies want to advertise explicitly, and as a result, the significant departure from our Seventh Amendment rights is often hidden within the confines and clauses of lengthy contracts.
Being the anal retentive person that I am, I called one such company’s headquarters and the management of multiple stores to ask if such boilerplate language was negotiable. Surprisingly (or maybe not so), I was told absolutely not. If I had enough of a problem waiving my right to a trial by jury, then I could just go somewhere else or buy it outright. Fair enough, some may say. After all, such is the virtue of living in a free market.
But do many people have these options? Particularly if you’re restricted in a market dominated by these sneaky technicalities that restrict those in less than able settings such as rural environments, single-parent homes, those without adequate transportation such as seniors, etc. We cannot simply assume we always have a choice. In a similar vein, think of those who have no choice but to choose public transportation, including those who use public transportation to access the laundromat. For those who have large families, the easy ability to wash clothes does definitively entail access to a washer and dryer as a basic need. If there’s any doubt about such a machine being a basic need, let us first consider the legal definition according to USLegal.com,
“Basic needs refer to those things that are necessary to sustain life. It is the minimum requirement of a community for a decent standard of life. Basic needs consists of adequate food, shelter, and clothing plus some household equipment and furniture”.
When one has the ability to achieve enough independence to lease a washer and dryer to maintain a high standard of cleanliness for their family, is it possible to go to another company that does not have boilerplate language without these potentially disastrous consequences? As the right to a trial by jury for most civil suits is a fundamental right within American society in accordance with the Seventh Amendment, it seems apparent that access to goods that maintain a dignity for human life should not have the average citizen unknowingly and unwillingly enter into a contract which strips them of their Constitutional Rights. At least, as the Georgia Supreme Court expressed in Bank South v. Howard, there must knowingly and willingly be a written stipulation by the party consenting to a non-jury trial.
In the end, it’s a question of whether I should maintain a modern standard quality of life and thereby give up my Seventh Amendment rights or should I find somewhere else to buy a heavily manufactured product from a company that will not use the same boilerplate language - or at least one that has the ability to negotiate said boilerplate language within a sales setting? Just something to think about in regards to my independence and that little dotted line of terms and agreements that I sign every day.