Viewing Unconscionability through a Market Lens
William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 52, p. 133, 2010
64 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2009 Last revised: 9 Jan 2012
Date Written: October 23, 2009
This Article calls for a move to the third phase in courts' attitudes toward consumer contracts. In the first phase, consumer contracts were considered ordinary contracts by courts thus requiring no special treatment. In the second phase, courts and legislatures became suspicious of consumer contracts and developed several tools for handling them, focusing on the characteristics of the parties and the transaction. In this Article, we suggest that it is time to introduce a third phase: Rather than examining each consumer contract in isolation, courts need to acknowledge that consumer contracts are a market-phenomenon which calls for a market-based approach. Instead of focusing on the characteristics of the parties and the transaction, courts should inquire whether there is competition, or potential competition, over contracts in the supplier’s market. In order to do so, courts should look at the particular features of the supplier’s market, that we identify, and also on the potential strategic interaction among competitors. We argue that when competition over contracts, or the threat of such competition, is sufficiently strong, consumer contracts should be deemed efficient and fair, and courts should not strike down clauses incorporated in such contracts. Interestingly, and counter-intuitively, this conclusion holds even where consumers are uninformed. We offer workable guidelines for courts as to how they could implement the market-based approach proposed in this Article and show how this approach could produce outcomes opposite to, but more efficient and fair, than the ones conventionally adopted by courts or offered by legal scholars.
Keywords: contracts, consumer contracts, market-based approach
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