Any time a business sells a product or provides a service to the public, it makes certain promises, known as warranties, regarding the quality of those goods and services. Manufacturers and sellers often include written warranties with their products, known as “express” warranties. Whether a product or service comes with an express warranty or not, the law also provides “implied” warranties to protect consumers against deceptive sales practices and defective products. If a merchant breaches a warranty, consumers may enforce their rights under state and federal law, including both common law and statutory claims.
Express and Implied Warranties
A merchant creates an express warranty by making a specific guarantee regarding the quality of its goods or services. For example, an appliance manufacturer might guarantee that a refrigerator model is free of defects for a period of one year from the date of purchase. If a refrigerator ceases to function during that one-year period because of a design or manufacturing defect, as opposed to damage caused by the consumer, the manufacturer is obligated to provide whatever remedy was specified in the warranty, such as replacement of the unit.
Other express warranties for a refrigerator might include a guarantee by the distributor or seller that the unit will be delivered to the consumer free from damage, or a guarantee by an appliance repair company that the repairs it performs will last a specified period of time. Merchants are not necessarily required to provide express warranties, but it is generally considered a good business practice.
Several implied warranties apply regardless of any express warranties. The implied warranty of merchantability applies to sales of goods. It guarantees that the goods match the description in the sales contract, are of the same or greater quality as those in the contract, are fit for their ordinary use, are adequately packaged and labeled, and meet any and all other terms of the contract.
If a consumer has requested goods for a specific purpose and notifies the seller of this purpose, the implied warranty of fitness provides additional assurances for the consumer. This type of implied warranty guarantees that, in addition to general merchantability, the goods are fit for their intended purpose.
The implied warranty of habitability protects tenants in residential leases. While the laws in most states require landlords to maintain leased property in habitable condition, such as by making repairs and keeping the property in compliance with housing codes, the implied warranty provides an additional measure of protection.
Uniform Commercial Code
Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) defines the rights and obligations of buyers and sellers with regard to express and implied warranties in the sale of goods. A seller must warrant that it has authority to transfer title to the goods to the buyer, and that the goods are free from any undisclosed liens. The UCC defines the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness, and it establishes guidelines for the creation of express warranties. It also sets limits on the ability of sellers to exclude implied warranties from a sales contract, or for buyers to waive those warranties. Consumers may enforce warranties through civil claims for breach of contract.
Forty-nine U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and several other U.S. territories have adopted Article 2 of the UCC. Louisiana uses a different legal system, based on European civil law rather than English common law, to govern sales of goods. The Louisiana Civil Code provides for warranties that are similar to those in the UCC, including a warranty that goods are free from defect and fit for their intended purpose, and a “warranty against redhibitory defects.”
Consumer Protection Law
Various consumer protection statutes at the state and federal levels allow consumers to enforce their rights after a breach of warranty. Some states’ deceptive trade practices statutes, for example, include remedies for breaches. Statutes that address specific types of goods may also rely on implied warranties. State lemon laws, for example, hold automobile manufacturers liable for selling defective vehicles.