The following list defines key words as they are used in these Rules.
- Informal Dispute Settlement (IDS) is a process in which two or more persons agree to let an impartial person or panel make a non-binding decision on how to resolve the dispute.
- Hearing officer refers to the individual or panel selected to conduct your hearing and make a decision in your dispute. Any action taken or decision made by a panel shall be by majority vote.
- BBB refers to the Better Business Bureau that is administering the IDS process.
- Days refers to calendar days.
- Parties includes the customer, the business and any other person or business that has agreed to use the IDS process. These Rules often refer to the individual parties in an IDS proceeding as the "customer" and the "business."
- Shall is mandatory; may is discretionary.
- You refers to one of the parties involved in the dispute being heard.
2. SCOPE OF INFORMAL DISPUTE SETTLEMENT
Disputes involving consumer products and/or services may be submitted to Informal Dispute Settlement (IDS). The following disputes will not be considered unless it is specifically agreed by all parties that the hearing officer may award them:
- Claims for criminal violation;
- Claims based on product liability;
- Claims for personal injuries;
- Claims where no deficiency or problem is alleged in the product or services involved in the transaction;
- Claims that have been resolved by a previous court action, arbitration, IDS proceeding or written agreement between the parties.
The decision as to whether your dispute (or any part of it) can be submitted to Informal Dispute Settlement rests solely with BBB. (See Rule 32.)
The following remedies may be awarded in an IDS proceeding: (a) full or partial refund of the cost of the product and/or service involved in the transaction, including sales tax and other direct incidental costs associated with the sale of the product or service; (b) completion of promised work or fulfillment of contractual obligations; (c) repairs, or reimbursement for the cost of repairs, to fix a defective product; and/or (d) the amount of any actual out of pocket loss or property damage, caused by the provision of the service, not to exceed $2500.
Additional remedies may be awarded in an IDS proceeding only if it is agreed by all parties that the hearing officer may award them.
The following may not be awarded in IDS unless it is specifically agreed by all parties that the hearing officer may award them: compensation for loss of wages, compensation for mental anguish, punitive damages, or legal fees.
4. TIME FOR FILING A CLAIM
Claims for IDS must be filed within one year of the transaction that is the basis of the dispute, or within the warranty period as provided by the business' written warranty, whichever is the longer period. This requirement may be waived by consent of all parties.
5. SUBMISSION AGREEMENT
BBB shall prepare a Submission Agreement that briefly describes the nature of the dispute and the decision sought as they are viewed by you and any other party.
The Submission Agreement shall include only those claims and remedies that fall within the scope of these Rules, unless both parties agree to submit additional claims in your case.
The Submission Agreement is intended to be a general outline of the dispute, not an argument of your case.
BBB shall give the Submission Agreement to the parties prior to the hearing. Each party shall sign the Submission Agreement and return it to BBB within five days of receiving it. Failure to mail the signed Submission Agreement within this time period may result in a delay of the resolution of your case.
You should contact BBB at once if you disagree with the general description of your case and/or the decision you are seeking.
Parties should not contact BBB if they think the description of the other party's case is in error; that is an issue for the hearing officer to decide.
6. APPOINTING YOUR HEARING OFFICER
- General procedure
BBB maintains a pool of individuals who have volunteered to serve, at no pay, as hearing officers. They do not necessarily have specific expertise in the matter to be decided, but can call upon the assistance of an expert if they believe it necessary.
BBB will appoint a hearing officer from the volunteer pool and shall provide the parties with the name of the hearing officer chosen, together with brief biography. This may be done by telephone or mail.
Each party shall reject the hearing officer if a financial, competitive, professional, family or social relationship exists between that party and the hearing officer. Each party has five days after receiving the notification of appointment of the hearing officer to exercise the right to reject the officer for such cause. If a party does not reject the hearing officer within five days of receipt, BBB will assume that no such relationship exists between the party and the hearing officer.
Should a selected hearing officer become unavailable or unable to serve for any reason, BBB reserves the right to select a substitute hearing officer, as long as the parties are given the opportunity to reject that hearing officer if a financial, competitive, professional, family or social relationship exists between the hearing officer and any party.
At BBB's option, or when required by law, a panel of three or more hearing officers may be selected for a case.
- Alternate procedure
BBB may use variations of this appointment process; however, any alternative procedure shall be designed to avoid conflict of interest and will provide the parties with a neutral hearing officer to hear their case.
7. COMMUNICATING WITH THE HEARING OFFICER
You or anyone representing you shall not communicate in any way with the hearing officer about your dispute except (a) at an inspection or hearing for which the other party has received notice but does not appear, or (b) when all other parties are present or have given their written permission.
All other communication with the hearing officer must be sent through BBB.
Violation of this rule may result in your case being discontinued.
8. QUALIFYING THE HEARING OFFICER
The hearing officer shall sign an oath pledging to make an impartial decision in your dispute. If the hearing officer believes that he or she cannot make an impartial decision, he or she shall refuse to serve.
If a financial, competitive, professional, family or social relationship exists between the hearing officer and one of the parties (even if the hearing officer believes the relationship is so minor as to have no effect on the decision), it shall be revealed to all parties, and you may decide that this hearing officer should not serve in your case.
BBB reserves the right to reject any hearing officer for any reason that it believes will affect the program's credibility.
9. YOUR REPRESENTATIVE
You may present your own case or have someone represent you.
If your representative is a lawyer, you must give the lawyer's name and address to BBB at least eight days before the hearing. BBB will notify the other parties to give them an opportunity to obtain a lawyer if they want. Your failure to give BBB advance notice of legal representation may result in a rescheduling of your hearing.
You are responsible for any fees charged by your representative.
10. INSPECTION BY THE HEARING OFFICER
You or the hearing officer may request an inspection of the product or service involved in your dispute.
If possible, the inspection will be performed as part of the hearing; otherwise, the inspection will be scheduled for a later date and all parties will receive at least eight days notice unless such notice is waived by all parties.
11. TECHNICAL EXPERTS
At the request of the hearing officer, BBB will make every effort to obtain an impartial technical expert to inspect the product or service involved.
The expert's findings will be presented in writing or in person, at BBB's option, either before, during or after the hearing. In any case, you will have an opportunity to evaluate and comment on the qualifications and findings of the expert.
You also have the right to have your own technical expert serve as a witness at your own expense.
12. HEARING NOTICE
BBB will set a date, time (during normal business hours) and place for your hearing. The hearing will be set with due regard for the schedule of the parties and the hearing officer. Notice of the date, time and place of the hearing will be sent to you at least 10 days in advance of the hearing.
If you object to the date, time or place stated in your notice, contact BBB immediately. BBB reserves the right to make a final decision as to the date, time and place for the hearing.
13. MANNER IN WHICH HEARING IS CONDUCTED
Although most IDS proceedings involve in-person hearings, BBB, at your request or at its option, may arrange to have your statement and evidence presented by telephone or in writing.
To the extent practical, BBB will arrange for the hearing to be held at a location convenient to the customer.
14. ATTENDANCE AT HEARINGS
BBB has the option to arrange for its staff, volunteers from its pool of hearing officers or government representatives to attend hearings.
For any other observer to attend a hearing, BBB will first determine that reasonable accommodations exist and then make sure that the parties and the hearing officer have no objection to the presence of an observer. If there is room and no objection, the observer shall be subject to BBB's directions regarding proper conduct.
15. MEDIA PRESENCE IN THE HEARING
Media shall be permitted access to a hearing on the same basis as other observers.
Unless there is approval of all parties and the hearing officer, neither media representatives nor any other observer may be permitted to bring cameras, lights, recording devices or any other equipment into the hearing.
Without such approval, all observers (including media representatives) shall be limited to note taking and shall be subject to BBB's direction regarding observers' proper conduct.
16. YOUR ABSENCE FROM THE HEARING
If you do not attend a hearing after receiving proper notice from BBB, the hearing officer may decide to go ahead with the hearing in your absence.
In deciding whether or not to go ahead with the hearing, the hearing officer will take into account, along with other relevant considerations, any unforeseen circumstances or emergencies that precluded you from attending the hearing as scheduled and from giving BBB advance notice that you will not attend.
Your absence will not result in an automatic decision against you, and you shall be given an opportunity to present your case in a time and manner set by the hearing officer. If you then fail to present your case, the hearing officer may make a decision without your presentation.
17. RECORD OF HEARING
BBB will maintain basic file information on your hearing for one year, or longer if required by law. This information will include the witnesses' names and documents presented as evidence at the hearing. Copies of these materials and official IDS forms relating to your case will be given to you upon request. A reasonable copying fee may be charged.
If you need an interpreter for your hearing and cannot provide your own, contact BBB and it will make every effort to find a volunteer interpreter.
19. OATH OF PARTICIPANTS
You and your witnesses shall be placed under oath at the hearing.
20. HEARING PROCEDURES
The hearing officer will decide on the order and procedures for you to present your side of the dispute.
You will be given an opportunity to make a personal presentation of your case, and you may present witnesses and evidence in support of your case. You may also question the other parties, their witnesses and their evidence. After everyone has presented his or her case, each party will be given the opportunity to make a closing statement.
If the hearing officer determines that additional information is necessary in order to make a fair decision, the hearing officer may direct that this additional evidence be submitted at a subsequent hearing or in any manner deemed appropriate by the hearing officer. If the hearing officer directs that written evidence be submitted after the initial hearing, the evidence shall be sent to BBB within the time frame specified by the hearing officer. BBB will send a copy to the other party and solicit a response. Both the written evidence and any response shall be submitted by BBB to the hearing officer.
When the hearing officer is satisfied that all testimony and evidence have been presented, your hearing will be closed.
21. ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE AT THE HEARING
You may present your case without being restricted by courtroom rules of evidence. However, you should be sure your evidence is relevant to your case.
The hearing officer can limit your presentation if it is repetitious or irrelevant.
22. ABSENTEE STATEMENTS
If you have a witness who cannot attend the hearing, you may present that person's written statement to the hearing officer. You must make a copy for the other party to read and use for response.
If you present your case by telephone, you should submit to BBB at least seven days before your hearing any written documents on which you will rely. BBB will provide these documents to the other party before the hearing.
Before the hearing officer makes a decision, you may ask the hearing officer to give you a reasonable number of days to respond to a written statement or document presented by the other party at the hearing. The hearing officer may grant your request at his or her discretion.
23. ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE AFTER INITIAL HEARING
Before a decision is made, a hearing officer may schedule new or additional hearings or otherwise request new or additional evidence to get all possible facts relating to your dispute.
Before a decision is made, you may send BBB new information that was impossible to present at your original hearing and request that it be considered. BBB will send it to the other parties for their response and then forward the information and any response to the hearing officer.
After the hearing officer has made a decision in your case, no more arguments or evidence may be presented, even if newly discovered or unavailable at the time of the hearing.
24. CLOSING THE HEARING
If you have been asked or allowed by a hearing officer to furnish additional evidence in support of your case, the hearing officer will set a deadline by which you must send the evidence to BBB. We will give the other party an opportunity to respond to your evidence and then will send all materials to the hearing officer.
The hearing officer will close the hearing when he or she determines that the parties have had sufficient opportunity to present all relevant evidence. The hearing officer will normally render a decision within 5 days after the hearing is closed.
If all parties voluntarily decide to settle the dispute before or during the hearing, the settlement will end the dispute and no hearing will be held.
26. TIME LIMITS
BBB shall make every effort to obtain a final resolution of your dispute within 60 days, unless state or federal law provides otherwise. This time period may be extended at the request of the customer.
27. THE DECISION
When the hearing officer has reached a decision in your case, all parties will be mailed a written decision accompanied by the hearing officer's reasons for the decision. BBB will not read a decision to you over the phone.
- Scope of decision
A decision shall be one that:
The decision may direct an action to be performed, money to be paid, or a combination of these remedies. The hearing officer may award all or part of what you seek or may decide to recommend no payment or performance at all.
- the hearing officer considers fair; and,
- falls within the scope of these Rules and your Submission Agreement.
- Types of decisions
The hearing officer may render either a final or an interim decision.
- If the hearing officer renders a final decision, the hearing officer has no further authority over the decision unless a valid request is made pursuant to Rule 27(C), Clarifying the decision.
- An interim decision may be written when the recommendation requires some action to be taken. If the hearing officer renders an interim decision, the hearing officer maintains continuing authority over the execution of the decision in accordance with the specific terms set out in the decision.
- Clarifying the decision
You may request that the hearing officer clarify a decision if you do not understand the decision, or if you and the other parties disagree about the specific action required by the decision. Requests for clarification must be sent in writing to BBB within 10 days of your receipt of the decision.
BBB will not accept a clarification request that attempts only to reargue your case or that is based solely upon your disagreement or disappointment with the decision.
If your written statement to BBB is an appropriate request for clarification of the decision, BBB will send the request to the other parties, solicit their views, and send the request and any response to the hearing officer. The hearing officer may either clarify the decision or reject the request for clarification and let the decision stand as written.
You may not ask the hearing officer to clarify the reasons for the decision.
- Determining whether parties will accept the decision
While the hearing officer’s decision is not binding on either party, business members of BBB must act in good faith in determining whether and to what extent they will comply with the decision.
BBB will send the decision to each party along with an Acceptance or Rejection of Decision form. BBB’s letter accompanying the decision will specify the number of days in which the Acceptance or Rejection of Decision form must be returned to BBB. Failure to return the form to BBB within the time specified shall be considered a rejection of the decision, unless BBB, in writing, extends this period by a reasonable number of days for good cause.
When a signed Acceptance or Rejection of Decision form is received by BBB, it will send a copy to all other parties.
If all parties accept the hearing officer’s decision, then:
If the parties do not accept the hearing officer’s decision, then:
- All parties must comply with the terms of the decision; and,
- Each party gives up the right to sue the other party in court on any claim that has been resolved through the decision, unless the decision is not complied with or unless otherwise provided by state or federal law.
- Each party is free to pursue other legal remedies under state or federal law; and,
- BBB involvement in the case will end.
- Verification of performance
Once all parties have accepted the decision, each must do what the decision requires within the time limits set by the hearing officer. If all parties have accepted the decision, BBB shall, approximately two weeks after the specified performance date, contact the parties to determine if the decision has been performed.
28. TIMELY OBJECTIONS
Any failure to follow these Rules that may significantly affect the independence, impartiality or fairness of the IDS process should be raised with BBB at the earliest opportunity. BBB will make a final decision on the appropriate action to be taken if BBB determines that a failure to follow these Rules has significantly affected the independence, impartiality or fairness of the IDS process.
29. CHANGE OF TIME
You and the other parties to the IDS proceeding may jointly agree, in writing, to change any period of time stated in these Rules.
30. CONFIDENTIALITY OF RECORDS
It is our policy that records of the IDS process are private and confidential.
BBB will not release the results of your individual case to any person or group that is not a party to the hearing unless all parties agree or unless such release is required by law or pertinent to judicial or governmental administrative proceedings.
31. JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS/ EXCLUSION OF LIABILITY
In submitting to IDS under these Rules, you agree that the hearing officer shall not be subpoenaed by either party in any subsequent legal proceeding. You further agree that BBB, CBBB or the hearing officer(s) shall not be liable for any act or omission in connection with the IDS process.
32. INTERPRETATION OF RULES/RIGHT TO DISCONTINUE IDS
BBB reserves the right to make the final decision on procedural questions, on the scope of the agreements, on a consumer's eligibility for IDS, and on any other question concerning the application and interpretation of these Rules.
BBB at all times reserves the right to discontinue administration of the IDS process for any case(s) due to a conflict with any state/federal law or regulation, or due to the conduct of a party.