Breaches of Warranties Supporting Products Liability Claims
Product warranties are guarantees that apply to consumer products. Generally, the guarantee is that a particular product will perform in a specific way or up to a specific standard. Federal and state laws cover product warranties and what a plaintiff must prove in order to recover in a products liability lawsuit arising out of a breach of warranty. There are three kinds of warranties: express, implied warranty of merchantability, and implied warranty of fitness. A lawsuit based solely on a breach of warranty is a breach of contract lawsuit.
"Express" warranties are specific guarantees made by a seller about the product. An express warranty is usually set forth in a sales contract, but at times it is conveyed through the seller's oral statements about the product. The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which governs the sale of goods, includes two implied warranties. These are the implied warranty of merchantability and the implied warranty of fitness. All manufacturers and sellers are expected to sell goods that perform as expected and satisfy general standards of quality for that product type. State laws limit how long a consumer may wait to sue for an implied warranty after buying a particular product.
Express warranties may appear in:
The product’s label or packaging
The instructions or paperwork included with the product
The contract associated with the product
Signs and marketing at the store
Advertising for the product
A seller’s verbal promise
Breach of Express Warranty
Express warranties are typically contained in sales contracts or when a seller expressly promises that a product will perform in a particular way. A sales contract contains express promises and can be submitted in court as proof of a breach. When a verbal promise by a salesman is at issue, it can be more challenging for a plaintiff's attorney to prove, especially since some sales contracts specifically state that a salesperson's warranty is not binding.
For example, when trying to sell a washing machine, a salesperson might advise the consumer that a particular model makes no noise. If it turns out that the washing machine makes a noise, the consumer might be able to sue for breach of express warranty. It may be difficult to prove, however, that the salesperson made that promise.
Under the Uniform Commercial Code, when a seller excludes all express warranties, it does not matter what he or she said about the goods. The buyer has agreed not to rely on oral statements.
Implied Warranty of Merchantability
An implied warranty of merchantability is a guarantee that the product does not have design defects, manufacturing defects, or improper labels. A manufacturer or seller, in holding out a product for sale, makes an implied promise that the product is fit for the purposes for which that product or similar products are sold. For example, if a power drill is packaged as being useful for drilling any material and only drills certain materials, this could be because of a design defect or a manufacturing defect. In addition to a claim for either design defects or manufacturing defects, a plaintiff could also sue for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability.
Implied Warranty of Fitness
An implied warranty of fitness arises when a seller knows a consumer is buying a product for a specific purpose, the seller knows the consumer relies on the seller's skill and judgment in choosing the right product to accomplish that purpose, and the product is not appropriate for that purpose. Unlike an implied warranty of merchantability, a product does not need to be defective to violate the implied warranty of fitness. For example, if a consumer tells the salesperson at the hardware store that he needs a tool that drills metal, and the salesperson recommends a particular tool that does not drill metal, the implied warranty of fitness will have been breached.