Attorney Mayo Talks Law - Helpful Legal Tidbits for Consumers

Tips for consumers of tangible goods...
Jonathan D. Mayo, Esq.

Welcome back to "Attorney Mayo Talks Law". In the following segment I will give tips for consumers of tangible goods. Massachusetts consumer laws, small claims, and other avenues are available to those who have been wronged by merchants.  Seizing one's rights and being assertive lead to the best outcomes when things go sideways.

It might be as simple as a pair of gloves that wore out after a single job, or complex, like a $50,000 car that's an utter lemon. One might rely to their own detriment on the expertise of a merchant in choosing an item, or on the terms of some warranty or representation offered by merchants.

 We can assign very basic categories to these standard "breaches."  First, where goods are of inferior quality, or do not perform or function as goods of that type should, this can be a Breach of Implied Warranty of Merchantability. Second, when  a consumer relies on a merchant's best judgment in picking an item for a certain purpose, and that purpose is not well-met, this can be a Breach of Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose. Third, when  a product does not live up to terms of an express warranty, or merchants' promises, this can be Breach of Express Warranty.

So consumers can use any of the three theories above to contest a troublesome transaction in goods.

These three legal remedies are part of the UCC, or Uniform Commercial Code, whose basic framework is the law of the land in all 50 states. (It even applies  to online sales) It's important to note that these rules most often trump store policies. So, for example, assume someone  purchased a pair of work gloves that only lasted a day, and the hardware store refused a refund based on store policy, They could argue that the Massachusetts  UCC trumped that policy, and the gloves were not fit for ordinary purposes, that there was a Breach of Implied Warranty of Merchantability.  As review, If the merchant in that instance recommended those gloves for a certain  unmet purpose, this could be a Breach of Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose. If the packaging here claimed that the gloves were "perfect for tough jobs" their failure would be a Breach of Express Warranty. (Note also that the tort of fraud or misrepresentation  may also be proven under stronger facts)

Further, Massachusetts General  Laws provide a cause of action for unfair and/or deceptive acts. (93A) And although 93A does provide for triple damages and attorney's fees, these are rarely awarded. 93A nonetheless provides a potent, additional cause of action that can be placed atop the actions noted above. Actions under 93A may also lie where prices charged don't match advertised prices, or where a store's refund or return policy is not conspicuously posted. More here.

Now, hopefully consumers are not forced to resort to legal action, and merchants provide relief before legal action becomes necessary, but in the event that consumers must litigate for relief, Massachusetts Small Claims are an inexpensive and relatively quick way to do so, provided that the claim does not exceed $7000. Larger claims may be brought in District or Superior Court, depending on the amount of damages.

In Conclusion:

We engage in countless transactions in the purchase of goods in our daily lives. While most of these transactions pass without a hitch, we've all experienced that feeling where an item failed our good faith expectations, and the merchant dryly recited a store policy denying relief. But sometimes store policy may not be the final answer.

This discussion is just meant to provide the basics. Parties should read the rules in depth before attempting to litigate pro se. While this discussion may contain notes and opinions on the law, it does not constitute legal advice, or create an attorney-client relationship with readers. Readers should consult an attorney before making any major decisions on issues noted  here.

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