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Ticketmaster voucher settlement was a debacle – and it will get worse

Ticketmaster. It’s tied with internet trolls as the most hated invention of the modern age.

The ticket broker didn’t make any new friends last week, either. As part of a class-action lawsuit in which it was sued for overcharging its customers, the company agreed to give $10 million in free concert tickets to the 50 million plaintiffs as part of the settlement.

Anyone with a basic understanding of math – and human behavior – could have predicted how that would go over. Everyone scrambled to get tickets, which sold out right away, and many were left empty-handed and angry.

The entire process was flawed and confusing from the start. Ticketmaster emailed people their voucher codes. When people went to the Ticketmaster website to get the codes, they had disappeared without explanation. Another annoying detail: Part of the settlement included vouchers for $2.25, which could only be redeemed as a discount on additional tickets.

Then it unveiled the disappointing list of acts the vouchers would be eligible for. It was what TV host Stephen Colbert dubbed “a who’s who of definitely not The Who.” Things got worse when people tried redeeming their vouchers. The site crashed. People got error messages that didn’t describe what was wrong. Some vouchers didn’t work at all. And then, just like that, the vouchers had all been claimed.

If you dealt with that sort of ordeal at a grocery store, you’d never shop there again. But it’s not like you can switch to a competitor the next time you buy concert tickets. Ticketmaster has a lock on every major act in the country.

Still, as pathetic as the result of this lawsuit was, it could’ve been worse. And next time, it will be.

That’s because, after the lawsuit started, Ticketmaster added a mandatory arbitration clause to its terms of use. When you do business with the company now, you automatically sign away your right to sue them in court.

Instead, your case will be settled through forced arbitration – instead of by a judge or jury – and the ruling will be almost impossible to appeal. The process often favors corporations, the usual legal rules don’t apply, and consumers don’t have the same rights they would have in a real legal trial.

Now, Ticketmaster has a monopoly and a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Mandatory binding arbitration clauses appear in fine print everywhere and are gaining more ground every day.

Corporations have been selling forced arbitration as a good thing. They’ve even got consumers parroting their claims that the clauses discourage “frivolous” lawsuits, like the one where that “greedy” woman sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee on herself.

Except that lawsuit wasn’t frivolous and the coffee wasn’t just hot. It was hot enough to melt through her clothing and skin, which is exactly what it did – leaving third-degree burns in three seconds. You can Google the gruesome pictures if you dare.

The woman asked only for the company to heat its coffee to non-insane temperatures and pay $20,000 in medical bills. McDonald’s refused and went to trial. After hearing McDonald’s knew its skin-melting-hot coffee had injured several other people before her but kept overheating it anyway, the jury awarded the 79-year-old woman $3 million.

If not for that, the restaurant might still be serving us hot lava. But at least in that case, we’d have the option to go to Burger King instead.