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Agreeing to Terms of Service Can be Costly

November 3rd, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A Texas couple who discovered spy cameras in their Manatee County AirBNB was before the Supreme Court of Florida Wednesday morning asking for their day in a trial court.

The couple has been blocked from suing because they agreed to the vacation rental’s terms and conditions.

When someone signs up for AirBNB and most other online platforms, they must first agree to the company’s Terms of Service.

But did a Texas couple agree to be spied on?

The couple, known only as John and Jane Doe were at the Supreme Court of Florida with an uphill argument: Giving away their legal rights to a third party was not clearly stated.

“They give the power to an arbitrator to make a decision, but it’s not supposed to displace the trial court’s inherent authority to make that decision too,” said attorney Tom Seider, who is representing the couple.

AirBNB’s disagreed.

“Terms of Service begins with all capital letters. Read these terms of service. Your legal rights and remedies are limited,” said AirBNB attorney Joel Perwin.

Justices asked why the language weans’t more clear.

“Just three or four, five, six, seven more words that basically say your arbitrator is going to decide whether he or she gets the case or not,” said Justice Jorge Labarga.

The spy cameras weren’t mentioned in court at all Wednesday, and won’t ever get before a judge unless the Supreme Court decides the terms and conditions were’t as clear as they could be.

Afterward the couple’s attorney said they knew they were giving up some rights, but not others.

“Our contract doesn’t talk about surveillance. It says we’ll arbitrate claims over deposits or if the property doesn’t match up with what we saw online. So we agreed to arbitrate those claims. We didn’t agree to arbitrate whether we were illegally surveilled,” said Seider.

The bottom line is that terms and conditions seldom benefit the consumer, so buyer beware.

Only one of at least three Florida appellate courts has ruled against AirBNB in cases like this one.

The different findings are why the case is before the Supreme Court.

There’s no timetable for a ruling.

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