Breach of Warranty in a Defective Product Case

Here's how a warranty (express or implied) can affect your defective or dangerous product injury case.

In the context of a defective product case, a warranty is essentially a guarantee that a product will perform in a specific way or up to a certain standard. The federal government and all 50 states have a variety of overlapping -- and sometimes conflicting -- laws that address product warranties. Still, certain fundamental elements show up in all warranty laws. Examining these elements discussed in this article can help determine if you can successfully sue for breach of warranty if you have been injured by a defective product. Read on to learn more.

The Main Categories of Warranties

There are three main categories of warranties that apply to consumer products. "Express" warranties are specific guarantees that the seller of a product makes about the product. The "implied warranty of merchantability" is a warranty imposed by law, where it can be reasonably assumed that the product satisfies general standards of quality for that type of product. The "implied warranty of fitness" is another warranty imposed by law, implying that the product is proper for the consumer’s known, specific purposes.

Let's take a closer look at each category of warranty.

Express Warranties

An express warranty is created either by the sales contract or by the product seller’s actions. For example, when trying to sell an air filtration system, the salesperson may tell the consumer that the system will be big enough to filter the entire house. If it later turns out that the filter was only ever capable of filtering a small portion of the house, the consumer may be able to sue for breach of an express warranty. The same would be true if the consumer signed a sales contract that specifically stated the filtration system could filter the entire house.

Note that many sales contracts contain clauses that state that any other warranties made by salespeople or other personnel are not valid. This doesn’t mean that a consumer cannot sue based on what a salesperson told them, but it may make the lawsuit more difficult.

Implied Warranty of Merchantability

The "implied warranty of merchantability" as applied to consumer products is essentially a guarantee that the product is not defective or mislabeled. This means that the product is fit for the general purposes for which it and similar products are sold, and that the product matches any promises or factual descriptions on the packaging.

A faulty product design might mean that all of the products, as manufactured, breach the warranty of merchantability, or just one individual product was somehow made defective before sale. For example, an air filtration system that didn’t actually clean the air in a house, either because of its design or because of a defective piece in a particular unit, would breach the warranty of merchantability. An air filtration system that was sold in packaging that claimed the system was capable of filtering an entire house of a certain size, but in fact could only filter a small portion, would also violate the warranty of merchantability.

Typically, a seller or manufacturer cannot get around the implied of warranty of merchantability except in very specific situations. For example, a state may not apply the warranty of merchantability to "as is" sales, provided the conditions of the sale meet precise legal requirements defined by the state.

Implied Warranty of Fitness

The implied warranty of fitness is typically breached when:

  • the seller knows that the customer is buying the product for a particular purpose
  • the seller knows that the customer is relying on the seller’s skill and judgment in choosing the right product, and
  • the product isn’t actually appropriate for the customer’s purposes.

Note that with the implied warranty of fitness, the product does not need to be defective for a breach of warranty to occur. For example, a consumer may rely on an air filtration seller to select and sell him or her a system that clears out a high percentage of pollen. If the seller then sells the customer a system that is not designed to filter pollen, the retailer has breached the implied warranty of fitness. As with the warranty of merchantability, a seller or manufacturer cannot get around the implied warranty of fitness except under specific conditions provided by state law.

Be Aware of Time Limits and Procedural Requirements

State law will typically put a time limit on how long a consumer can wait to sue for breach of any implied warranties after a product purchase. The length of any other warranties in the sales contract are typically not affected by state law.

Additionally, state law may set out specific procedures that a consumer must follow to obtain a refund. Note, however, that it is also possible to sue for more than a refund when the breach of warranty has caused some kind of physical or economic harm, either to the consumer or others.

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