A Negotiated Instrument: Proposing a Safer Contract for Consumers (And Not Just a Smarter One)
In this Article, I propose a new standard for determining what constitutes assent, as a matter of contract formation, within the domain of electronic consumer contracting. The threshold test should reject the “take-it-or-leave-it” arrangement dominant in the marketplace and reified by recent proposals before the American Law Institute (“ALI”) under the moniker “blanket assent.” The new standard should reject blanket assent in favor of a default rule that would require any electronic form proposing contract terms to permit at least a minimal amount of negotiation around terms seeking waiver of rights from consumers. I propose this rule as a more acceptable behavioral proxy in determining whether the manifestation of the mutual assent standard applicable to all contracts performed by competent contracting parties is met. Requiring negotiation and negotiability from electronic forms will go further than the current “click-through” baseline to cure the current problem of consumer incapacity widely recognized (though not widely named) in the consumer marketplace. It is that disturbingly debased status that defines the plight of the consumer in the modern consumer contracting domain (a point I make in a related, earlier piece). This Article argues that technology has advanced to such an extent that the absence of greater negotiability can no longer be defended with regard to electronic forms. As an example of this technology, I use the life of a wager from the online sports gaming business to make this point. Given what this gaming technology demonstrates, we are now able to see how technology may facilitate ever greater consumer interface around pricing, risk-taking, risk-prediction, and active choice in relation to qualitative events, features, and outcomes online. Using this technology, in conjunction with contract law and tort law norms, this Article argues that a recent decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court analyzing Uber’s electronic form should demand more from sellers than the “click-through” option the court appears to set, as a baseline, for accomplishing assent with regard to electronic consumer contracting formation.
Michael S. Lewis,
A Negotiated Instrument: Proposing a Safer Contract for Consumers (And Not Just a Smarter One),
Ga. St. U. L. Rev.
Available at: https://readingroom.law.gsu.edu/gsulr/vol38/iss2/9