The Law in Your Life

Consumer Rights

Warranties

What is a Warranty? Warranties are guarantees made usually by manufacturers or service companies which may describe the terms by which services, repairs, replacement, or maintenance will be conducted should any such work be necessary.

It is important to note that any statements made by the salesman will be given very little, if any, credence in a dispute. Only if the salesman had the authority to modify a warranty, and does so in writing, will the "sales talk" be given weight in a dispute. You should, by all means, insist that all statements be placed in writing in the warranty, especially if that is a major reason for buying the item.

TYPES OF WARRANTIES

Express. Express warranties are those which are in writing. These, of course, provide the most protection for the consumer and you should consider another store if the warranties do not appear in writing. Warranties do not always have to be in writing. But you should never purchase a product relying on an oral warranty, since it will be difficult, at a later date, to prove the terms of any oral warranty. If your warranty is in writing, you should read it carefully, as most warranties have extensive limitations, on parts or labor for example. It will be assumed by the court, if you purchased the product, that you read the "fine print" and consented to the terms of the warranty.

Remember, too, that to enforce a warranty you will likely have to institute a lawsuit, [most likely in Small Claims Court, but not always] which will cost you money, in many instances, more money than it costs to replace the product. Therefore, make certain all warranties are in writing and all statements are set forth in the warranty in writing.

Implied Warranties. Cases have mushroomed where courts have found warranties where such warranties were not expressly stated. This law, while unpredictable, basically enables the court to find a duty on the part of companies to provide products which are free from defects. Every state in the United States has now adopted the Uniform Commercial Code, which provides that all products sold have an automatic implied warranty that they be fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are generally used. This means that if your product has a defect which was caused either by faulty manufacturing or faulty installation, you would be entitled to a refund or a replacement.

There are certain limitations on defects in this area of law. One serious limitation is that the defects from which a product must be free are those which a manufacturer or seller would reasonably have known to exist. Thus, a computer that did not display any letters on the screen would likely be defective. However, a computer which would not perform certain functions which you expected, might not be defective.

If you have a problem in this area, unless your loss is minimal, you ought to consider the value of the defective item. If the value of the product is over several thousand dollars, you should at least have this problem reviewed by a Plan Attorney to ascertain whether you could prevail in a lawsuit. This is particularly true if the defective product causes some type of injury to you or another person, as a result of its defect.

If it is under a few thousand dollars in value, you may want to learn more about the specific steps you can take to pursue your legal rights. The Small Claims and Consumer Help section gives you step-by-step instructions to follow in determining: (1) whether it is worth it to sue; (2) what paperwork to file; and (3) exactly how to present your case to give you the best chance of winning.

"As Is". "As Is" is a term which should be recognized by you as an alarm. It signifies that the seller is disclaiming any liability for any defect in the product being sold. Companies and individuals are permitted to disclaim warranties, including express and implied warranties, and usually do so by utilizing the term "As Is."

As a buyer, you should avoid purchases in which these words appear, or if you do purchase an item where the contract contains the term "As Is," you will be saddled with any problems occurring after the date of purchase. For example, if you signed an "As Is" contract for a boat, and it sunk pulling away from the dock, you have lost your money. You will likely have no recourse. Of course, in the law there are never any absolutes, but this is one of the areas where one can say with almost absolute certainty that you should never buy any item marked prominently with the phrase "AS IS."

As a seller, you should always sell an item with a written contract which specifies that the item is being sold "As Is." These letters should appear in bold letters, in a manner in which such a condition would be obvious to the buyer. This will assist in limiting your liability for any claims from a buyer for selling defective goods.

Remember that whether you are buying or selling any item, if the value of the item is substantial, it is advisable to consult with a Plan Attorney to make certain you avoid any major pitfalls. On items in which the cost or sale price is not significant, you can follow the general rules regarding warranties set forth in this section.

BREACH OF A WARRANTY

When warranties are not honored, this may allow you to sue a party who gave you a warranty, especially if you have already paid for services. Remember, however, if you have paid $30.00 for a toaster, used the toaster every day for a year and a half, and then the toaster breaks and the warranty is not honored, you may not be able to recover your entire $30.00. While you should, of course, ask for it in a lawsuit, a judge will likely determine the value of the toaster on the date it broke and possibly award you only a portion of the value of the toaster.

To recover on a breach of warranty case, you must provide the warranty. You might fully expect the other party to conveniently "forget" to bring the warranty to court or to argue that there was no warranty, or even to bring a warranty from some other product which is more favorable to their side. It is not their burden to bring the warranty to court. It's yours.

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