A warranty is a seller’s guarantee that a product has a certain quality. If the product fails to perform as promised, the seller is liable for breach of warranty. There are several different types of warranties. The three main types are:
- Express warranties: If a seller makes promises about a product through words or actions, an express warranty is created. Examples of express warranties include written consumer warranties, promises made by the seller, product descriptions, and product samples.
- Implied warranties of merchantability: When a seller specializes in a certain type of product, there is an implied warranty that the quality of the products will be equal to what is generally acceptable in the market and that the products will generally be fit for their ordinary purpose.
- Implied warranties of fitness for a particular purpose: If a seller knows the particular purpose for which a customer is purchasing a product and knows that the customer is relying on the seller’s skill or judgment, there is an implied warranty of fitness.
A buyer can sue a seller for breach of warranty under a contract theory. The remedy will typically be expectation damages, otherwise known as "benefit of the bargain" damages. However, there are limitations on a buyer’s ability to recover:
- Statute of limitations: Statutes of limitations vary by state, but typically the statute of limitations for a breach of warranty claim if four years from the time of tender (not from the time the defect was discovered).
- Privity requirement: The plaintiff and defendant must have been in privity, meaning that the plaintiff must have bought the product directly from the defendant. A second-hand buyer cannot sue the original seller for breach of warranty because the promise was only extended to the original purchaser of the product.
- If the buyer examined the goods: If the buyer examined the goods at or before the time of purchase, there are not implied warranties as to defects that would have been obvious on examination.
- Disclaimers: A disclaimer is a renunciation of a promise contained in an implied warranty. Disclaimers are made by conspicuous language regarding merchantability or "as is" language. Obviously, express warranties cannot be disclaimed.
- Limitations on recovery: Unlike disclaimers, limitations on recovery do not eliminate warranties, but they do set limits on the potential recovery for a breach of warranty claim. Courts will uphold provisions limiting recovery so long as the limitations are conscionable. For example, limitations on remedies for personal injuries are not conscionable.
If the product you purchased is faulty or defective and you have been injured as a result, in addition to a breach of warranty contract claim, you may be able to file a product liability suit for personal injury. Personal injury suits are based in tort law (rather than contract law), so privity is not required. The injured party may recover against the product’s designer, manufacturer, distributor, or seller under the following theories:
- Battery: The defendant knew that the product was dangerous and didn’t place warning labels on it.
- Negligence: It was reasonably foreseeable that the product could pose a danger to consumers and the defendant acted carelessly.
- Strict liability: Defendants who are "commercial suppliers," as opposed to "casual sellers," is always liable if their product harms someone.
Lawyers who deal with warranties and contracts are knowledgeable of state and federal laws surrounding your specific issue. Since you’re dealing with corporations that have legal defense teams and courts that entail complex procedures, it’s probably a good idea to hire a seasoned business lawyer who can advise you through the process.