3 minute read

Product Liability

Breach Of Warranty

Warranties are certain kinds of express or implied representations of fact that the law will enforce against the warrantor. Product liability law is concerned with three types of warranties involving the product's quality or fitness for use: express warranty, implied warranty of merchantability, and implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. These and other warranties are codified in the UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODE (UCC), which every state has adopted, at least in part.

An express warranty can be created in one of three ways: through an affirmation of fact made by the vendor of the goods to the purchaser relating to the goods, which becomes part of the bargain; by way of a description of the goods, which is made part of the basis of the bargain; and through a sample or model, which is made part of the basis of the bargain (U.C.C. § 2-313).

An express warranty can be words spoken during negotiations or written into a sales contract, a sample, an earlier purchase of the same kind of product, or claims made in publicity or on tags attached to the product. An express warranty is created when a salesperson states that the product is guaranteed to be free from defects for one year from the date of the purchase.

Implied warranties are those created and imposed by law, and accompany the transfer of title to goods unless expressly and clearly limited or excluded by the contract. However, with respect to damages for personal injury, the UCC states that any such contractual limitations or exclusions are "prima facie unconscionable" and cannot be enforced (U.C.C. § 2-719 (3)).

The implied warranty of merchantability requires that the product and its container meet certain minimum standards of quality, chiefly that the product be fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are sold (U.C.C. § 2-314). This requirement includes a standard of reasonable safety.

The implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose imposes a similar requirement in cases in which the seller knows or has reason to know of a particular purpose for which the goods are required and in which the buyer is relying on the seller to select or furnish suitable goods. The seller then warrants that the goods are fit for that particular purpose (U.C.C. § 2-315). For example, assume that the buyer tells the seller, a computer supplier, that he needs a high-speed computer to manage inventory and payroll functions for his business. Once the seller recommends a particular computer to handle these requirements, the seller is making an implied warranty of fitness. If the computer cannot adequately process the inventory and payroll, the buyer may file suit.

The action for breach of one of these warranties has aspects of both tort and contract law. Its greatest value to the injured product user lies in the fact that liability for breach is strict. No negligence or other fault need be shown. However, in addition to the privity limitation, certain contract-related defenses have impaired the remedy's usefulness. These include the requirement that the seller receive reasonably prompt notice of the breach as a condition to his or her liability, the requirement that the buyer has relied upon the warranty, and the ability of the seller to limit or disclaim entirely the implied warranties. These defenses are most appropriate in cases in which a product's failure causes economic loss. The trend has been away from strict enforcement of these defenses in personal injury cases in which the action is closer to a tort action.

A blown out Firestone ATX mounted on a wrecked Ford Explorer, which was to be used as evidence in a 2001 lawsuit against the tire company and vehicle manufacturer. Whether or not a product contains a defect is of critical importance in a product liability lawsuit.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Prerogative orders to ProhibitionProduct Liability - Theories Of Liability, Historical Development, Negligence, Breach Of Warranty, Strict Liability, Defects