Buy Cheerios, Wheaties or any other General Mills Product and You Give up the Right to Sue over False Advertising, Mislabeling…or Anything Else

Friday, April 18, 2014
(AP photo)

The company that sells Cheerios and other popular foods says consumers who purchase its products should be prohibited from suing it no matter how wrong its actions might be.

 

General Mills, which produces Chex, Bisquick, Betty Crocker products and more, claims it can deny Americans their day in court if they buy any of the company’s goods. The same prohibition applies if a consumer does any of the following: download coupons, “friend” it on Facebook or join it through other online communities, or enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes.

 

The food manufacturer claims it can impose these due-process restrictions by simply amending its “legal terms” found on the General Mills website.

 

If a consumer has a problem with the company, it should have to submit to “forced’ arbitration, instead of suing in court, the company says.

 

General Mills has settled multiple cases out of court recently that involved allegations of misleading marketing of its products.

 

It paid $8.5 million last year to resolve lawsuits contending its Yoplait Yoplus yogurt wasn’t as healthy as General Mills claimed.

 

The year before, the company settled another suit by removing the word “strawberry” from the packaging labels for Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, which did not contain any of the fruit.

 

Currently, General Mills is fighting a case in California, where two women have sued over the company’s claim that Nature Valley products are “natural,” even though they contain genetically engineered ingredients as well as high-fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin.

 

“Although this is the first case I’ve seen of a food company moving in this direction, others will follow — why wouldn’t you?” Julia Duncan, director of federal programs and an arbitration expert at the American Association for Justice, a trade group representing plaintiff trial lawyers, told The New York Times. “It’s essentially trying to protect the company from all accountability, even when it lies, or say, an employee deliberately adds broken glass to a product.”

 

Given General Mills’ new wide-ranging “legal terms,” what if someone merely visits the company’s website? Does that mean that person has agreed to General Mills’ terms, and must submit to forced arbitration in the event of some future dispute?

 

“We really don’t know,” Scott L. Nelson, a lawyer at Public Citizen, told the Times. “[But] you can bet there will be some subpoenas for computer hard drives in the future.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue (by Stephanie Strom, New York Times)

Legal Terms (General Mills)

Supreme Court Supports Companies Forcing Arbitration as Alternative to Class Action Suits (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Federal Judge Rules General Mills Is Allowed to Mislead Consumers about “Fruit” Products that Contain No Fruit (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

FDA Says Cheerios Health Claims Unsubstantiated (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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