Download a coupon, forfeit your rights?: General Mills restricts consumers' right to sue


General Mills, the Minnesota-based corporation responsible for brands like Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, has amended its legal policies to prohibit those who download coupons, enter sweepstakes, or join in related online communities from suing the company, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The news quickly spread, sparking outrage among social media users concerned that the new policies would apply to those who 'like' General Mills-affiliated companies on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. See also: Nelly and General Mills debut Honey Nut Cheerios commercial

In response, Mike Siemienas, a spokesman for the company, sent The New York Times an email stating that the policy does not apply to Facebook users.

"No one is precluded from suing us merely by purchasing our products at the store or liking one of our brand Facebook pages," he said.

However, those who accept a coupon in exchange for liking the company's Facebook page automatically agree to the terms laid out in the new policy, Siemienas added.

After making the policy change, General Mills issued the following statement in a banner at the top of its website: "We've updated our Privacy Policy. Please note we also have new Legal Terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration."

Binding arbitration prohibits consumers from taking their cases to court, forcing them to instead settle the issue in a private forum, even if they're badly injured by a company's product. The arbitration clause also requires one-on-one resolution of claims, precluding the possibility of a class action.

"Where the parties to a contract agree to use arbitration, a claim that may otherwise be heard and decided by the court or a jury, will instead be resolved by a private party, without the right to appeal the decision," said Twin Cities-based attorney Daniel Cragg.

"Arbitrators don't have to be lawyers, but almost always are in the case of a single arbitrator," Cragg said. "When you use a panel of arbitrators, sometimes you may see a non-lawyer with trade experience included. Strictly speaking, you could also agree that the arbitrators don't have to apply the law, but this is also rare."

General Mills, a frequent subject of lawsuits, is one of the first major food companies to enforce binding arbitration.

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