When someone has been injured by a defective product, the injured person or surviving family members may have the right to bring a claim against the manufacturer, distributor, or seller of the harmful product in order to recover for the damages suffered. Possible legal theories that can be argued in a products liability case include negligence (lack of reasonable care in the manufacture or sale of the product or in warning about the product), breach of warranty (failure to fulfill the terms of a promise regarding the product), misrepresentation (giving consumers a false sense of security about a product’s safety), and strict tort liability (the product’s defect, although not the fault of the defendant, rendered the product unreasonably dangerous and the defendant is therefore responsible). This article focuses on breach of warranty claims.
An experienced products liability or personal injury attorney can help determine whether a valid breach of warranty or other products liability claim exists and provide information and representation throughout the entire legal process, in order to ensure that the injured parties secure the compensation to which they are entitled.
A Breach of Warranty Is a Broken Promise about Product Safety or Performance.
Products liability law is based on the responsibility of a manufacturer or other provider of goods to compensate users of the goods for injuries caused by defective or dangerous products. The basic idea underlying products liability law is that the companies providing the products are usually in the best position to prevent defective products from entering the marketplace; so if they fail to do so, they should be held accountable. The law in this area has evolved from the days of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) to, in some instances, strict liability, in which manufacturers are responsible for injuries caused by their defective or unreasonably dangerous products even if they were not negligent.
Breach of express or implied warranty is one theory on which injured persons may sue in a products liability case. In a breach of warranty case, the basic premise underlying the defendant’s liability is the representation that a product will perform as promised, and the failure of the product to live up to that promise. In other words, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant made a warranty, either express or implied, about the safety or performance of the product. An express warranty is made when the seller or other party in the product’s chain of distribution specifically states to the user something to the effect of, “This product is the best and safest for the purposes for which you will use it and it will perform perfectly.” An implied warranty, by contrast, may arise when, despite the fact that the seller made no such express statement, it knew of the purpose for which the user bought the product and it intentionally sold a particular product to him or her to fulfill that purpose. In such cases, the existence of a warranty is implied by law.
The plaintiff in a breach of warranty case, much like a plaintiff in a strict liability case, must also establish that the product that was the subject of the warranty was defective, which means that it was unreasonably dangerous for its intended use. Manufacturing defects are usually easier to prove than design defects. If a particular consumer’s tires exploded when driving at high speeds on a hot day, for example, it is pretty clear that those tires were not manufactured as the designer intended them to be. A design-defect case, on the other hand, could arise if many or all tires of a manufacturer’s particular line posed a threat of explosion. In other words, in a design-defect case, the product may have been manufactured as it was intended to be, but the design was inadequately planned in such a way as to pose unreasonable hazards to consumers. Proving a design defect involves passing judgment on technical choices and usually requires expert testimony.
The plaintiff in a breach of warranty case must also establish that the product’s defect existed at the time it left the manufacturer’s or seller’s control. If the product’s condition changed so as to render it unreasonably dangerous after it left a particular defendant’s control, that defendant usually will not be held liable. Changes in a product’s condition may be brought about by a person or entity later in the chain of distribution or by the ultimate consumer; in either case, parties higher up the chain may not be held accountable, unless the alteration was foreseeable.
Another required element of the plaintiff’s claim is that the defect caused the injury. Proving causation in a products liability case can be complicated. If the injuries could have arisen from several potential causes, the plaintiff generally must establish that the product defect had a substantial role in bringing about the injuries.
Damages recoverable in a products liability lawsuit may include those for personal injuries as well as property damage. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff’s damages may include medical expenses, lost wages, damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, and sometimes even punitive damages, which go beyond compensating the plaintiff for his or her actual losses and are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter future similar bad conduct. Property damage may also result from the breach of a product’s warranty. In such cases, the plaintiff may be able to recover the costs of repairing or replacing the damaged property.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a federal law that governs consumer product warranties. It requires manufacturers and sellers of consumer products to provide the purchasers of those products with detailed information about warranty coverage. Although it does not require that every manufacturer or seller provide a written warranty, it does govern what must be included in a written warranty once a manufacturer or seller decides to provide one.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act imposes three basic requirements: (1) all warranties must be designated as full or limited, (2) required information about warranty coverage must be provided in a single, clear, and easy-to-understand document, and (3) warranties relating to consumer products must be made available before those products are purchased. In addition, the Act prohibits the disclaimer and modification of implied warranties-those warranties that are not specifically stated but are implied by law, such as the implied warranty of merchantability. The duration of implied warranties may sometimes be limited, however, if a manufacturer similarly limits its express warranties.
Under the Act, warranties may not include deceptive or misleading terms. For instance, a warranty proclaiming coverage of all moving parts for a product that contains no moving parts would be misleading and therefore prohibited.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act makes it easier for consumers to sue for breach of warranty by making that breach a violation of federal law and by allowing consumers to recover court costs and attorneys’ fees in such lawsuits. Even though Magnuson-Moss is a federal law, suits under the Act can be brought in either state or federal court. The Act actually attempts to discourage litigation, however, by encouraging informal dispute resolution mechanisms like arbitration or mediation, which often result in a less frustrating, less costly, and more expedient resolution of warranty disputes.
If you have suffered losses-either personal injuries or property damage-as a result of the breach of a product warranty, you may be able to make a claim against the manufacturer or seller that offered the warranty. When seeking an attorney to represent you in connection with such a claim, be sure to investigate his or her background in products liability law. Ask questions about his or her training and experience so that you can make an informed decision about whether this is the right person to zealously represent your interests against a big company that may have many more resources than you do to fight the claims against it. Only with a veteran products liability on your side can you be sure to achieve an outcome that best compensates you for your losses.
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