Consumer Warranty Rights Law

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 If There Is a Defect in a Product I Bought, How Do I Enforce its Warranty?

Before discussing enforcing a product’s warranty, it is helpful to first discuss what exactly a warranty is.

A warranty is a type of guarantee which is made by the seller of goods or products, regarding the good or product. Through a warranty, the seller assures the quality of the goods, products, or services that they are providing. A warranty is useful to a buyer due to the fact that if the product fails to perform as the buyer was led to believe it would, the seller could be held liable.

Generally speaking, there are two types of warranties, each offering differing levels of protections and rights.

  1. Express Warranties: Express warranties are created by the overt words or actions of a seller. An express warranty can be created by:

    • A promise by the seller about a product;
    • A description of the product; and/or
    • A model of the product.
  2. Implied Warranties: An implied warranty is a warranty that is created by the law. They automatically apply when the seller offers some product for sale, regardless of if the seller says anything about the way in which the product is to perform. Implied warranties can be further broken down as being for merchantability, and fitness for a particular use.

    • Implied Warranty of Merchantability: The implied warranty of merchantability guarantees that the product is fit to use in a way that the product is intended to be used When a seller sells a product, the implied warranty of merchantability guarantees that:

      • The product is both fit and suitable, and as such can be used for the ordinary purposes that buyers would intend to use it;
      • The product’s quality is accurate; and
      • The product conforms to any promises that are made by the manufacturer, which are generally found on the product’s container or label.
    • Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Use: When the seller is told by the buyer that they want to use a product in a specific way, and the seller gives them the product, they are warranting that the product they provided is fit for the use the buyer has in mind. The implied warranty of fitness for particular use applies when:

      • The seller knows that the buyer will be using a product or good for a specific purpose; or
      • The seller knows that the buyer is relying on the seller’s expertise and knowledge regarding the product’s ability to be used in the way the seller would intend.

If there is a defect in a product that you have bought, the first thing you should do is try to return the product to the seller or manufacturer for replacement or repair. If you have a warranty for the item, the seller or manufacturer is required to give you a product in fully working condition. Alternatively, there could be an option to refund the money you paid for the product.

If the seller or manufacturer will not fix or replace your defective product, one of the following options may be available to you:

  • If you are making installment payments on the product, you may be able to stop making the payments until the seller or manufacturer agrees to honor their warranty. However, this can be risky, as the manufacturer or seller may be able to sue you for those missed payments;
  • If you cannot settle the dispute amicably with the seller or manufacturer, you may see if the Better Business Bureau can mediate the dispute for you; and/or
  • If you cannot agree with the seller or manufacturer regarding how to settle the dispute, and your warranty is still not being honored, you may be able to sue the seller or manufacturer in order to legally force them to honor the warranty.

Is There Anything I Can Do If the Product Breaks after the Warranty Expires?

In terms of whether there is anything you can do if the product breaks after the warranty expires, that will largely depend on the condition your product was in while it was under warranty. If the product had a defect while under warranty, and you followed the procedures as listed under the warranty in order to have the defect repaired, most states have determined that the manufacturer or seller will be legally required to extend your warranty for an extended period of time.

Additionally, you may want to call and ask the seller or manufacturer if an appearing defect could be fixed free of charge. This would be in cases if your product did not have any problems under warranty, and the warranty has since expired. In some cases, the manufacturer or seller will be aware of some common defect in that line of products, and will remedy the defect at charge for any customer who reports the defect or damage.

Some sellers will sell their products “as is,” in order to disclaim the implied warranties. However, they could still be held liable when they sell products “as is.” If a product is dangerous, defective, or otherwise causes injury to a person, the seller may still be held liable for the damage done by the product. Additionally, many states have regulations in place associated with how a seller can sell a product “as is.”

Can I Sue the Company for Not Honoring the Warranty?

It is important to understand the limitations placed on warranty liability before determining whether you can sue the company for not honoring the warranty.

A buyer can sue a seller for breach of warranty under a contract theory. As such, the remedy in breach of contract claims will typically be expectation damages, otherwise known as “benefit of the bargain” damages. However, there are some limitations on a buyer’s ability to recover that should be considered before attempting to file a lawsuit for a company not honoring warranty provisions:

  • Statute of Limitations: Statutes of limitations vary by state; generally speaking, the statute of limitations for a breach of warranty claim is four years from the time of purchase, not from the time the defect was discovered by the buyer;
  • Privity Requirement: The plaintiff and defendant must have been in privity; meaning, the plaintiff must have bought the product directly from the defendant. A second-hand buyer cannot sue the original seller for breach of warranty, as 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 no 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 as previously mentioned. Express warranties cannot be disclaimed; and/or
  • Limitations on Recovery: Unlike disclaimers, limitations on recovery do not eliminate warranties. However, they do set limits on the potential recovery for a breach of warranty claim. Courts will uphold provisions which limit recovery as long as the limitations are conscionable.

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 governs warranties on consumer products. While the law does not require any product to have a warranty, products that do have a warranty must comply with this law. The Act was created with the intention to resolve problems resulting from manufacturers using disclaimers on warranties that could be considered unfair or misleading. Simply put, the Act makes warranties on consumer products more easily understood and enforceable. Additionally, the Act provides the Federal Trade Commission with means to protect consumers.

Should I Consult a Lawyer If My Warranty Isn’t Being Honored?

If your warranty is not being honored, you should consult with an experienced local consumer attorney. State laws vary in terms of consumer laws and warranties. As such, a local consumer lawyer will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws and protections. An experienced attorney can help you determine whether you can file a claim for breach of warranty, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

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