Online Contract Amendment Not Binding

After Talk America bought AOL’s long distance telephony business, it amended several terms in the service contract, adding an arbitration clause, a class-action waiver and a New York choice-of-laws clause.  Talk America implemented these amendments by posting them to its website.

When a customer tried to sue Talk America, lawyers attempted to deflect the lawsuit, invoking the mandatory arbitration clause and citing the class-action waiver.  However, in this case the customer had originally signed on with AOL, prior to the amendments made by Talk America. 

In Douglas v. U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 06-75424 (9th Cir. July 18, 2007) the Court of Appeals put these amendments to the test.  Generally the court decided that the online postings were not binding on the customer, noting “Parties have no obligation to check the terms on a periodic basis to learn whether they have been changed by the other side.” 

In Canada, this issue was considered by the Ontario Superior Court in its 2002 decision in Kanitz v. Rogers Cable Inc. (2002), 58 O.R. (3d) 299.  In Kanitz, Rogers posted the amendments on its customer support webpage and the court decided that Rogers had provided its customers with sufficient notice of the amendments.  Mandatory arbitration provisions and class-action waivers (such as the ones at issue in Kanitz) are now ineffective in Ontario under consumer protection legislation that was introduced in July, 2005 in response to the Kanitz decision.

How does a company amend its service contracts? Very carefully.

Online postings of contract amendments are more likely to be effective when the original contract permits such changes, the customer is provided with sufficient notice of the changes, and the notice provides a clear explanation of the changes.  The changes must comply with local consumer protection legislation.


Calgary – 12:30 MST

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  1. […] As we noted in our earlier post mandatory arbitration clauses and class-action waivers are now ineffective in Ontario and Quebec under consumer protection legislation.  […]