Implied Warranties

May 18, 2010

An implied warranty is the promise that a product meets certain minimum expectations, regardless of whether a written or even verbal commitment has been made.

Consider a refrigerator. The warranty probably does not state that the product will keep things cold. Nevertheless, consumers are allowed to assume that the product will do so. That is the “implied warranty” that comes with the refrigerator.

A vehicle is expected to be safely drivable.  If the vehicle cannot be driven because of defects, there might be a violation of the implied warranty. Furthermore, if a check engine light is illuminated or the vehicle is making unusual noises, it might not conform to a consumer’s reasonable expectations about its performance. This, too, might be considered a breach of the implied warranty.

If a manufacturer or dealer makes a more specific promise about the use of a product, they might have created a different type of implied warranty. For example, a consumer might purchase a truck because it can tow a certain amount of weight. If the vehicle’s nonconformities ultimately prevent a consumer from doing that towing, there might be a violation of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.

Some manufacturers try to disclaim implied warranties, meaning they do not want to be responsible for this type of promise. In Missouri, it is well-established that if a warranty fails of its “essential purpose,” any disclaimers are void. To the extent a consumer has put up with an unreasonable number of repair attempts, the warranty may have failed its purpose to get a problem fixed.

The federal lemon law (Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) and the Missouri state Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) provides causes of action for implied warranties.

Pet Lemon Law

May 18, 2010

A recent news article asked if your pet is a lemon. A Minnesota resident purchased a puppy that unfortunately needed almost $3,000.00 of medical treatment. The pet owner discovered that Minnesota had a special lemon law just for pets.

Missouri does not have a pet lemon law. However, Missouri courts have decided that, despite their special place in our hearts, pets are considered to be property.

Because a pet is considered property, if the pet was purchased for more than $25.00, the federal lemon law might apply. As well, depending on the pet’s condition, there could a violation of an implied warranty.

No one hopes for a pet to be sick, but a breeder or dealer might be responsible in Missouri if the pet’s ailments are discovered soon after purchase.

What is a Consumer Product?

May 17, 2010

The Federal Lemon Law (Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) defines a consumer product as almost any item that “is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes.”

But it is the common, or normal, use of a product that determines whether it is a consumer product under the federal lemon law.  The actual use the product by the consumer may not necessarily be the same as the “normal” use of that product.

For example, automobiles are often used for both personal and business uses, but under the federal lemon law, they should nevertheless be considered a consumer product. Even if a manufacturer tries to label its product as “commercial,” that by no means guarantees that the majority of consumers actually use the product for a business purpose.

Determining how a product is normally used by consumers can be very difficult. Few manufacturers keep track of how its customers are using its products. Getting the names of all customers may be an invasion of privacy, and calling more than a small percentage of them is likely unfeasible.

With vehicles, it is somewhat easier. The federal government has created specific criteria for a vehicle to be commercial, based on its weight and cargo. Though it sounds strange, some large trucks might therefore be considered commercial products, even if they are only used for personal reasons.

In one important court case in Missouri, the Court of Appeals determined that a jury should decide whether a consumer good is a consumer product. In that case, the consumers has purchased a 1-ton Dodge truck with a dump-truck body. The trial judge found that the vehicle sounded too much like a commercial product and dismissed the case. But on appeal, the consumers got the case reinstated, because that factual decision should  be made by their peers.

Thus, even if it is unclear if your product is primarily used for personal or business reasons, as a consumer, you should be entitled to your day in court.

What is covered under the Federal Lemon Law?

May 16, 2010

If you bought a “consumer product”  for more than $25.00 that came with a warranty, the federal lemon law (Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) may apply to your item.

A “consumer product” is any item that “is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes.” The idea behind this language is to exclude products that are commercial, that is, normally used for business purposes.

A warranty under the Federal Lemon Law includes written promises, like a warranty booklet that comes with a vehicle, but it could also be an implied warranty or a service contract.

The Federal Lemon Law  creates a cause of action for a consumer who is damaged by a failure “to comply with any obligation” found in the federal statute.  One of those obligations is that the seller must “remedy such consumer product within a reasonable time and without charge.” See 15 U.S.C. section 2304.

Thus, a warranty promises to repair an item, and the federal lemon law requires the repairs to be done in a reasonable time and without charge. When this is not done, the product might be a lemon under the federal lemon law.

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