Understanding Warranty Fraud

You just bought a new refrigerator that comes with a three-year warranty, and the icemaker breaks a couple of months after purchase. You expect the warranty to cover repairs or replacement, but you call the seller or warranty provider and get the runaround. What do you do?

Now, what if the refrigerator is used, but the salesperson promises you, “This fridge will keep on working for another few years”? Can you hold the company and its sales rep to their word and get it repaired or replaced if it ceases working?

It’s important to understand warranty law. Most new products and many services – such as a motorized garage door repair – come with express or written warranties. In addition to anything that’s in writing, U.S., Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska laws also recognize the existence of implied warranties.

If you’re being given the runaround on a warranty for a product or service you’ve purchased, and you’re in Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas, or Lincoln, Nebraska, contact the consumer protection attorneys at Stecklein & Rapp. We will listen to your story and advise you of your options.

Types of Warranties

All states except Louisiana have adopted the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which addresses the issue of warranties, among many other topics. Under the UCC, various types of warranties are recognized. Here are the most common:

Express Written Warranty: This is something that is in writing promising some sort of warranty protection. It could be the promise that “this product will be defect-free for one year” or it will be replaced. It could be the manufacturer’s or retailer’s written promise to maintain the product in working condition or to make good on a service provided that didn’t solve the problem or reach the conclusion you sought and paid for.

Express Oral Warranty: From the example, the salesperson who promised the used refrigerator would keep working for years made an express oral warranty. Express oral warranties are valid even when a written warranty states there are no other warranties, implied or otherwise. The problem with an oral warranty is that you must be able to prove the person actually made it.

When it comes to implied warranties, there are two that are recognized by the UCC and by states that adhere to the code:

Implied Warranty of Merchantability: This is a promise that the item will work if you use it for a reasonably expected purpose. For instance, you can reasonably expect to use a lawnmower to cut grass, but not to chop down three-foot-high weed patches. For used items, the promise is that they will work in the manner expected given their age and condition.

The UCC states that “a warranty that the goods shall be merchantable is implied in a contract for their sale if the seller is a merchant with respect to goods of that kind.” This language is echoed in Kansas Code 84-2-314, in Missouri Code 400.2-314, and in Nebraska Code 2-314.

Implied Warranty of Fitness: This applies when you buy something for stated purposes and the seller recommends a certain product as being a fit for your needs. The seller’s recommendation becomes an implied warranty of fitness.

What Constitutes a Breach?

A breach of warranty occurs when a seller, manufacturer, or service provider fails to make good on promises made under any of the types of warranties described above. If your new big-screen TV comes up with an empty screen whenever you turn on a cable channel, and the retailer or manufacturer fails to repair or replace it, that is obviously a breach. 

A breach of warranty, in other words, usually takes one of two forms: a misrepresentation of a fact or condition warranted to be true, or a failure to do or refrain from some conduct warranted to be done (repair or replace).

Steps to Take if a Warranty is Breached or Fraudulent

Documentation is the key to any type of warranty appeal or legal action. You must retain all paperwork, purchase receipts, written warranty, and so on. If a salesperson makes an implied warranty or promise, try to get it in writing or have a witness who can confirm the promise was made.

When the product or service becomes defective or fails to live up to what you agreed to pay for, again, document everything that happens. “June 2: Turned on the TV and the screen was blank no matter how many times I restarted it.” If it’s something that can be captured on video or images, use your cell phone for additional documentation.

When you’ve documented everything, send it to the manufacturer or retailer, stating again that you want your warranty honored.

Remember, if matters do end up in court, the other party is going to claim that the warranty didn’t cover what you’re suing for, or that there was no warranty, or that your behavior or misuse caused the problem in the first place. Therefore, you’re going to have to prove:

  • There was a valid warranty in place.
  • The defect is substantial (the TV doesn’t work; a scratch on the outer frame wouldn’t count).
  • You used the product correctly and did not cause the defect by your behavior or misuse.

How Legal Counsel Can Help

Stecklein & Rapp (formerly Consumer Legal Clinic, LLC) has more than two decades of experience fighting for consumers’ rights and protections. If you’re getting the runaround – or outright denial – in a warranty claim you’ve made, our attorneys can consult with you, assess the circumstances, and advise you of the best path forward.

We have offices in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as Kansas City, Kansas, and Lincoln, Nebraska. Call us immediately with any warranty or consumer rights issues you have.


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