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A Brief Guide to Consumer Warranties

In the simplest terms, a warranty is a guarantee or an assurance. Various aspects of law, certainly including consumer law, deal with warranties.

Whether you realize it or not, nearly every time you purchase a consumer good, there is some form of warranty on the product you are purchasing. When people generally think of sales warranties, they probably think of those that come with a car, large appliances, home-related installations (such as roofs, windows, etc.), and other major purchases. These are express warranties, which is the best-known type of sales warranty recognized by the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”); a second kind of sales warranty is the implied warranty.

Express Warranties

Express warranties are guarantees made by the seller, whether orally or in writing, regarding  the quality and reliability of a product. Nearly all claims regarding a product’s reliability qualify as express warranties and manufacturers are usually obligated to remedy the situation if the product does not live up to the quality or reliability that was expressly promised.

As mentioned previously, these types of guarantees are common for products like vehicles, which often include warranties with limits (typically defined by time and/or miles driven), but may also be provided for simpler products. Consider, for example, an express warranty for a pair of jeans promising that they will not fray. Keep in mind, however, that verbal express warranties are much more difficult to prove in court, so it is wise to get a warranty in writing whenever possible.

Manufacturer or seller violations of written express warranties are generally fairly clear, and if the manufacturer or seller refuses to honor a valid express warranty, a competent attorney should be able to present a solid case in court against the offending entity on your behalf. Just be sure you read closely and fully understand all the fine print, especially that regarding limitations and exceptions, on any express warranty before you assume it will be valid.

Implied Warranties

The second category of sales warranty recognized by the UCC is implied warranties. Implied warranties are often inherently verbal or unspoken, rather than written, but nearly any consumer product you purchase is protected by an implied warranty, unless specifically stated otherwise. An implied warranty is a guarantee or assurance about a product that can be safely assumed to be true without any oral or written representation made by the seller.

There are two different types of implied warranties that all consumer products carry: a warranty of merchantability and a warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. The warranty of merchantability refers to the implied warranty that the product you are purchasing is guaranteed to function as it was intended to given the nature of that product. For example, a vehicle must be able to safely transport you and a clothes dryer must indeed dry clothing. The product you purchase must work as it was built to work.

 

Article Two of the UCC, which has been adopted by the State of Missouri, defines a product as “merchantable” if it meets certain criteria, such as being fit for the ordinary purpose and being packaged for sale. The implied warranty of merchantability applies to all consumer goods that meet these standards.

The warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is another implied warranty, but it does not necessarily apply to all products. For example, consider a microwave-safe bowl: the microwave-safe quality of the bowl is a particular aspect covered by an implied warranty. So, if you ask a salesperson for a plastic bowl that will not melt in the microwave and the bowl that the salesperson sells you is not microwave-safe, this would qualify as a breach of the implied warranty of fitness. In this case, you would have recourse to at least get your money back for the purchase. The bowl does not breach the warranty of merchantability because it fulfills its intended purpose of holding food, but it is not fit for the particular purpose you requested.

Keep in mind that Missouri does allow sellers to disclaim the implied warranty, meaning they could represent a product as being sold “as is,” which would invalidate any implied warranty. However, without such a disclaimer, consumers in Missouri have recourse against a manufacturer or seller if a product they purchase does not meet expectations given implied warranties.

If you have questions about sales warranties, or you have purchased a product or warranty and the seller is refusing to honor the warranty, please contact Bell Law.

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