General Mills, the food mega-corporation that owns Betty Crocker, Nature Valley, and basically every sweet cereal you ate and served your kids, has a startling new legal policy making it illegal to sue the company after you:
- download or print a coupon;
- “join” an online communities (which online communities is in question, but possibly including Facebook);
- subscribe to an email newsletter;
- or redeem a promotion or participate in any "offering."
In other words: It just became nearly impossible to get a deal on a General Mills product without forfeiting your rights to sue the company. Even if your kid with a peanut allergy eats a Fiber One bar with trace amounts of peanuts and gets sick. For this reason, the Times reports that the new terms could come under strict legal scrutiny.
This policy, known as "forced arbitration," is becoming common among companies seeking ways to prevent users and customers from joining together and suing for millions of dollars for things like false advertising. General Mills recently paid $8.5 million to settle a lawsuit over Yoplait Yoplus yogurt. In late 2012, it settled another suit over the word “strawberry” on label for Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups (a product which does not contain actual strawberries). A California judge recently refused to dismiss a case suing the Nature Valley brand over the word “natural," since its products contain some processed ingredients.