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Express Warranties

15 January, 2016 - 09:33

An express warranty is created whenever the seller affirms that the product will perform in a certain manner. Formal words such as “warrant” or “guarantee” are not necessary. A seller may create an express warranty as part of the basis for the bargain of sale by means of (1) an affirmation of a fact or promise relating to the goods, (2) a description of the goods, or (3) a sample or model. Any of these will create an express warranty that the goods will conform to the fact, promise, description, sample, or model. Thus a seller who states that “the use of rustproof linings in the cans would prevent discoloration and adulteration of the Perform solution” has given an express warranty, whether he realized it or not. 1 Claims of breach of express warranty are, at base, claims of misrepresentation.

But the courts will not hold a manufacturer to every statement that could conceivably be interpreted to be an express warranty. Manufacturers and sellers constantly “puff” their products, and the law is content to let them inhabit that gray area without having to make good on every claim. UCC 2-313(2) says that “an affirmation merely of the value of the goods or a statement purporting to be merely the seller’s opinion or commendation of the goods does not create a warranty.” Facts do.

It is not always easy, however, to determine the line between an express warranty and a piece of puffery. A salesperson who says that a strawberry huller is “great” has probably puffed, not warranted, when it turns out that strawberries run through the huller look like victims of a massacre. But consider the classic cases of the defective used car and the faulty bull. In the former, the salesperson said the car was in “A-1 shape” and “mechanically perfect.” In the latter, the seller said not only that the bull calf would “put the buyer on the map” but that “his father was the greatest living dairy bull.” The car, carrying the buyer’s seven-month-old child, broke down while the buyer was en route to visit her husband in the army during World War II. The court said that the salesperson had made an express warranty. 2 The bull calf turned out to be sterile, putting the farmer on the judicial rather than the dairy map. The court said the seller’s spiel was trade talk, not a warranty that the bull would impregnate cows. 3

Is there any qualitative difference between these decisions, other than the quarter century that separates them and the different courts that rendered them? Perhaps the most that can be said is that the more specific and measurable the statement’s standards, the more likely it is that a court will hold the seller to a warranty, and that a written statement is easier to construe as a warranty than an oral one. It is also possible that courts look, if only subliminally, at how reasonable the buyer was in relying on the statement, although this ought not to be a strict test. A buyer may be unreasonable in expecting a car to get 100 miles to the gallon, but if that is what the seller promised, that ought to be an enforceable warranty.

The CISG (Article 35) provides, “The seller must deliver goods which are of the quantity, quality and description required by the contract and which are contained or packaged in the manner required by the contract. [And the] goods must possess the qualities of goods which the seller has held out to the buyer as a sample or model.”