Warranties and Product Safety
- Warranties Regulating Product Safety in Georgia Are You about to Make an Important Purchse? Check out this Consumer Complaint Database First. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Consumer Complaints Georgia Consumer Protection Unit Inquire or complain about a charity Better Business Bureau U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Web Site Consumer Product Safety Commission
Long before there was any law protecting consumers, the doctrine of caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware") prevailed. In other words, the best protection for a consumer is to be very careful:
- Be careful about the person or firm selling the goods or services.
- Be careful about the quality of goods or services.
- Be careful about the price and terms of payment.
In this century, the first major bill to protect consumers was called the Pure Food and Drug Act. Passed by Congress in 1906, it prohibited the mislabeling of the contents of food, liquor, and medicine containers. About this time, many states, including Georgia, also passed laws to protect the public against unwholesome food and harmful ingredients in drugs. Since then, numerous consumer-protection laws have been passed.
Why has there been an increase in consumer laws?
One reason is that we live in an age of mass production. Buyers and makers of goods usually don't know each other. When people bought shoes from the village cobbler, they could complain when the shoes were not well made. Now people buy shoes made in other states or countries. Getting satisfaction for poorly made shoes or other products can be almost impossible.
This disconnection between buyers and sellers means also that more and more goods travel through interstate commerce.
Regulating interstate commerce is one of the powers given by the Constitution to Congress. This power has enabled Congress to pass consumer-protection laws.
In the U.S. economy, most dealings between consumers and sellers or lenders are relatively free of government control.
Generally, laws regulating sellers or lenders are passed only when the practices of sellers have seemed deceptive, harsh, unfair, or misleading. Some fields of consumer law have required more regulation than others.
Regulating Product Quality (Warranties)
When you buy something at a store-be it a stereo cassette or a tennis racket-you expect that it will work. You also expect it to last for some period of time. What if it doesn't? What rights do you have as a buyer?
Warranties are a consumer's major safeguard of product quality. A warranty is the seller's legal promise or guarantee as to the quality of the goods. There are two kinds of warranties: implied (or statutory) and express (or contractual).
Implied (Statutory) Warranties
Implied (or statutory) warranties are imposed on products by law. Nearly every state in the United States has adopted a set of laws called the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Among these laws is a law providing that goods purchased from a merchant are assumed to have certain warranties. A merchant deals in goods of a particular kind. A large store like Wal-Mart is a merchant of many different kinds of goods. These warranties are said to be implied because they do not have to be formally stated by the merchant. However, implied warranties can be waived (or given up) by the consumer.
There are three implied, or statutory, warranties: (1) warranty of merchantability, (2) warranty of fitness, and (3) warranty of title.
1. Warranty of merchantability. Merchantable goods are goods that are fit to be sold. The warranty of merchantability means that the goods are fit for the ordinary purpose for which such goods are sold. It can also mean they are as described on the package or label and that the goods are of fair or average quality. However, it is not a guarantee that the goods are of superior or outstanding quality.
The warranty of merchantability exists whether or not the seller states it in words.
2. Warranty of fitness.
If the seller knows that the goods are to be used for a particular purpose, there is also an implied warranty that the goods are fit for that purpose. This assumption is particularly true if the buyer is relying on the judgment of the seller in selecting the goods.
3. Warranty of title.
The implied warranty of title means that a buyer has the right to assume, unless told otherwise, that a seller owns the property he or she is selling. It means the seller has the right to sell it. Buyers also can assume that they will be the sole owners of whatever they buy, unless told otherwise.
Waiving implied warranties.
The implied warranties of merchantability and of fitness for a particular purpose may be waived by the buyer. Often, this waiver occurs when goods are accepted "as is," "in present condition," or words to that effect. To be effective, these types of phrases must be prominent and conspicuous.
Used cars are frequently sold "as is," which means that the seller does not warrant their condition. If they break down, the loss is the responsibility of the buyer.
A store that does not give refunds or exchanges is, in effect, selling goods "as is." It is making its customers give up the warranties of merchantability and fitness. However, customers must know about the policy. To be valid, the policy may have to be in writing and conspicuous to the buyer.
Express (Contractual) Warranties
Express (or contractual) warranties are created by certain actions of the seller or manufacturer. You are probably most familiar with written warranties that accompany goods. These warranties usually make some guarantee about the material, workmanship, and performance of a product. They usually state what the manufacturer or seller will do if a product does not perform well.
Express warranties can also be created by the seller by:
1. Making a specific promise or affirming a fact. Suppose a saleswoman says the store will make any necessary repairs on a computer free of charge for a year. She is creating an express warranty.
2. A written description of the goods. If a mail order catalog describes a tent as waterproof, an express warranty is created.
3. Showing a sample or model to the buyer. In doing so, the seller is promising that the item actually sold to the buyer will be like the model shown prior to the sale. Suppose a shop owner demonstrates a color television, and you buy an identical model. You should expect it to perform the same way. The owner has created an express warranty.
An express warranty may also take the form of a bill of sale that a buyer must sign. However, the bill of sale may limit or disclaim the seller's responsibility for defects in the product. It may ask the buyer to give up implied or even express warranties. Be sure to read documents you are required to sign at the time of a purchase.
Warranties can be full or limited. A full warranty assures the buyer that the goods are totally free from defects at the time of the sale. It may include an obligation that the seller repair the goods within some time limit if they do not work properly.
In the case of products that have more than one part, some parts may be under full warranty; other parts may be under limited warranty. A limited or partial warranty is, as the name implies, something less than a full warranty. Whether Selina can sue would depend on what the written statement actually says. Like other contracts, warranties should be read carefully. You should note that "full" warranties are the exception rather than the rule.
If a Warranty Is Broken
What can you do if a seller doesn't meet a warranty? If you have a complaint:
- Identify the problem. Shoddy or broken merchandise? False advertising? Worthless guarantee?
- Decide what you want. Refund? Payment for damages? Repairs? Replacement?
- Prepare your complaint. Photocopy records of your purchase. Keep original records yourself. Make notes of talks about the problem with the company representatives.
- Present your complaint. First to the SALESPERSON who sold you the goods. If that person does not help you, go to the MANAGER. If the manager is uncooperative take the matter to the COMPANY PRESIDENT. If the problem is with a national company, write a letter. Include full information, such as what you bought (enclose copies of documents concerning the purchase), when and where you bought it, what the problem is, what you want done about it, and provide a time limit for action. Keep a copy of your letter.
- Seek outside help. If you still get no satisfaction, explain your problem to a CONSUMER HELP agency. LEGAL ACTION should be your last recourse.
An important law passed in 1975, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, provides additional protection. The act requires that written warranties be clearly expressed so that consumers know what they are getting. It covers the different aspects of warranties such as materials, workmanship, performance, and actions that will be taken if a product does not work well. The act says that if a seller gives an express warranty, the consumer cannot lose any implied warranties.
Under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a seller who violates the terms of a warranty or service contract can be sued by a purchaser with a claim of more than $25.
* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase at www.cviog.uga.edu or by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.
Regulating Product Safety in Georgia
The regulation of product safety is similar to that of product quality. However, the protections of the consumer from unsafe products are broader and cannot be so easily waived. The area of state law governing product safety is known as Products Liability Law. Products liability is part of a larger body of law called torts, which deals with the rights of individuals to recover damages for personal injuries. This aspect of tort law puts responsibilities for product safety on the maker and seller; both can be held liable for damages.
Under Georgia law, manufacturers of goods are strictly liable for injuries caused by their defective products. Defective products are not safe for their intended use, either because of a problem with their design or because of a defect resulting from the manufacturing process. Strict liability means that it is not necessary to show that the manufacturer was negligent or careless in failing to discover that its product was defective. The idea behind strict liability is that manufacturers who put goods on the market are in a better position than individual consumers to pay the costs of injuries that their products cause.
Strict liability also gives manufacturers an added incentive to produce safe products. Any person injured by the use of a defective product may sue the manufacturer under the law of strict liability, even if that person was not the original buyer of the product. The principle of strict liability differs from the protection provided by warranties, which usually only protect the buyer of the product. Georgia law also requires manufacturers and sellers of consumer goods to provide adequate warnings about the dangers associated with their products. Manufacturers and sellers may be liable if they fail to do so.
In addition, because of concerns about safety, a number of federal laws set standards for product safety:
Examples of Federal Laws Concerned with Public Safety:
- 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act Prohibits mislabeling of food, liquor, and medicine containers.
- 1907 Agricultural Meat Inspection Act Requires regulation and inspection of meat-packing plangs engaged in interstate commerce. Extended to plants doing in-state business in 1967.
- 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act Strengthens 1906 act and adds requirements for advertising and labeling cosmetics.
- 1953 Flammable Fabrics Actand later amendments Allow banning of sale of flame-prone clothes and household furnishings.
- 1960 Hazardous Substances Labeling Actand later amendments Set labeling requirement for hazardous (poisonous, corrosive, and flammable) products.
- 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act Sets safety standards for design of motor vehicles and requires certain lifesaving equipment in motor vehicles.
- 1966 Child Protection Act and 1970 Toy Safety Act Allow banning of products dangerous to health and safety of children.
- 1968 Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act Sets standards for certain electronic products and limits on radiation emission by products such as color TVs and microwave ovens.
There are also numerous agencies that work to protect consumer safety. The oldest federal agency is the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It reviews all drugs for safety, effectiveness, and correct labeling. If it is claimed that a food has nutritional value, then its package must be labeled. It must state the product's name, manufacturer, weight, and ingredients. The FDA is also responsible for cosmetic safety. It does not test cosmetics, but it does act on consumer complaints.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission can issue safety warnings about unsafe products. It can also prohibit the sale of dangerous ones.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration establishes and enforces safety standards for autos, trucks, buses, bicycles, and motorcycles. The agency also investigates complaints about the safety of motor vehicles. It can require a manufacturer to recall all models with safety defects and repair them at no cost to the consumer.
In 1990, Georgia enacted a "lemon" law. This law says that if a dealer has tried unsuccessfully a specified number of times to solve a problem with a new car that does not work satisfactorily (a "lemon"), the owner is entitled to a replacement or refund.
The state has another role in regulating product safety. The Georgia Department of Agriculture is responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of agricultural products bought and sold in the state. It administers inspections of meat, poultry, and milk. The department is also concerned with proper packaging and labeling and with the accuracy of commercial scales.
* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Third Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2001). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase at www.cviog.uga.eduor by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.
Are You about to Make an Important Purchse? Check out this Consumer Complaint Database First.
Consumer complaints are listed here after the company responds or after they have had the complaint for 15 calendar days, whichever comes first.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: www.consumerfinance.gov
How and when to file a complaint with the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs; includes complaint form.
Georgia Consumer Protection Unit: consumer.georgia.gov
Inquire or complain about a charity
The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance is a merger of the National Charities Information Bureau and the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation and its Philanthropic Advisory Service. From these web pages you may investigate charities and file complaints against charities.
Better Business Bureau : www.give.org
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Web Site
CPSC is an Independent Federal Regulatory Agency. CPSC works to save lives and keep families safe by reducing the risk of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products. We do this by: (1) developing voluntary standards with industry, (2) issuing and enforcing mandatory standards or banning consumer products if no feasible standard would adequately protect the public, (3) obtaining the recall of products or arranging for their repair, (4) conducting research on potential product hazards, (5) informing and educating consumers through the media, state and local governments, private organizations, and by responding to consumer inquiries.