Can I Sue a Satellite or Streaming Company?
You may be able to sue a satellite TV provider or a streaming service, but you're probably limited to bringing a claim in small claims court. For larger amounts, you may be able to arbitrate your claims, which is a process we describe below. If you do decide to arbitrate, keep in mind that you are probably limited in the amount you can recover.
Some streaming services limit the time in which you can bring a claim. If you have an issue with a satellite company or a streaming service, you may want to consult an attorney as soon after the issue arises as you can.
Americans Enjoy Watching Television
On average, Americans watch a staggering amount of television. One report suggests as much as eight hours per day. That is about 122 days per year.
There are several subscription-based pay TV options available to consumers, including cable TV, satellite dish, and internet streaming services. You can also watch live TV on apps on your cell phone, computer, or tablet. You can get not only the major networks (e.g., Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC), but sports networks, movie packages, and hundreds of other channels. If you wanted to, you could easily fill eight hours in a day watching TV.
But with pay TV options can come problems. Sometimes your streaming service or satellite provider might make a billing error. You might buy a show and find that the video quality is poor. You might pay a lot of money to livestream a sporting event only to have the feed cut out in the middle of the broadcast.
These issues can be frustrating. And potentially expensive.
What Options Do You Have to Resolve Disputes?
When you first signed up for satellite or streaming service as a new customer, you agreed to the provider's terms of service. This agreement formed a binding contract. That contract sets out the conditions under which you will receive programming, as well as the process for resolving any disputes.
You will want to make sure you look at the precise language of your specific provider's terms of service if you get into a dispute. FindLaw looked at several of these contracts to see if there were similarities in the dispute resolution processes:
- Satellite companies (DirecTV and Dish Network)
- Streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV+, Hulu, Sling TV, DirecTV Stream, HBO Max, YouTube TV, Disney+)
With at least four notable exceptions — Amazon, YouTube TV, Apple TV+, and Disney+ — they do provide for similar dispute resolution processes.
Informal Dispute Resolution
You should first try to work out the dispute with your provider informally. Call the customer service number and explain your circumstances. They may have simply made a mistake. Give them a chance to fix it.
If that doesn't work, pull up the terms of service on the internet and look at the language under the section on dispute resolution. You may see an outline of the steps you can follow before you need to take any legal action. Those steps may include notifying the company in an email that describes the nature of the problem and then waiting to hear back from them. They will look into your claim and may be able to propose a solution that satisfies you.
If you are not successful with the informal process the next step is exploring potential legal action. Most of these streaming/television contracts give you two options.
Small Claims Court
The first is filing a claim in your local small claims court. Small claims courts handle disputes of up to a limited amount of money under state law. They provide a relatively inexpensive and quick way to obtain resolve many types of legal matters, including contract disputes, consumer issues, and landlord and tenant arguments. You can handle many small claims matters on your own without a lawyer (some states won't let you have one).
If your dispute is about an amount that falls under this limit, small claims court may be just the right place for you. The limit varies, depending on where you are, but the range is between $2,500 (Rhode Island and Kentucky) and $25,000 (Delaware and Tennessee). You can learn more about small claims court and get additional resources from FindLaw.
Be aware, however, that if your claim exceeds the amount a small claims court can award, you can't recover the rest of what you may be owed.
Your other option is to pursue arbitration. Arbitration is a dispute resolution process that involves having a neutral, experienced third party hired by the parties (an “arbitrator") review submissions, hear arguments from both sides, and decide the outcome. You do not get to appeal the decision of the arbitrator. Their decision is final.
Many view arbitration as faster and cheaper than going to court. It can be, but some arbitrations are just as expensive and take just as long as a formal court case. They can also be very complicated.
If you are thinking about pursuing arbitration, you would benefit from speaking with an attorney with experience in handling arbitrations. They can give you their thoughts about the pros and cons of arbitration and advise you whether arbitration makes sense in your case, especially if your claim is large enough to justify it.
As we pointed out above, at least four companies provide their own specific procedures. Once again, make sure you check the terms and conditions of the particular satellite company or streaming service you are concerned about.
Amazon does not require you to go through arbitration. But you can only bring a lawsuit against them in King County, Washington, the location of their headquarters. It doesn't have to be in small claims court, but your case does need to be filed there.
YouTube TV is owned by Google. According to their terms of service, you do not need to arbitrate any claims you may have against them. But like Amazon, there is only one place in the country where you can bring legal action against them, and that's in Santa Clara County, California (the location of their headquarters).
The terms of service of Apple TV+ (and other Apple media) also do not require you to arbitrate any claims. But if you want to sue them, you can only do so in Santa Clara County, California.
Disney+ is owned by AT&T. The terms of service for Disney+ (and ESPN+, which is also owned by AT&T) do not allow you to bring your claim in court. Arbitration is your only option.
Waivers, Disclaimers, Time Limitations, and Limitations on Liability
Figuring out where to bring your claim is just the first step. You still need to win. And winning these cases isn't easy.
Most contracts with satellite companies and streaming services contain further restrictions and limitations. For example, they may:
- Contain a disclaimer that says they are not liable if service goes out unexpectedly or under other conditions
- Include language that says you waive your right to relief in certain circumstances (such as if you do not go through the informal dispute resolution process before going to court or pursuing arbitration).
- Limit the time in which you can bring a claim (such as to one year)
- Limit the amount of any recovery (such as to one month's bill).
These are just a few examples. This one-sided language should come as no surprise. The provider wrote the contract. You only had two choices — accept their terms as written or don't subscribe to the service.
In any case, this just goes to show how important the specific language of the terms of service is. So make sure you review them carefully and, if you have any questions, consider running them by an attorney with experience in contracts.
Questions? Consult a Lawyer
So what's the bottom line? If you have a dispute with a satellite company or streaming service, try to work it out. If you can't, your next steps are set out in the terms of service contract. Follow those steps carefully. Although most give you the choice between small claims court and arbitration, there are exceptions. And they all contain further restrictions and limitations on any right you may have to recover.
Seeking the guidance of a lawyer, especially if you are considering arbitration, may be the smart thing to do. They can give you guidance, explain what your legal rights are, and help you come to a decision about whether formal dispute resolution makes sense for you.