Can I Sue an Appliance Company?
Yes, you may be able to sue an appliance company if the appliance you buy is defective. Most appliances are sold with limited warranties. If the company violates the terms of the warranty, you may be able to sue for breach of contract.
If your loss is limited to the money you're out for the defective product, you may be able to bring your contract case against the manufacturer in small claims court. But give the seller and the manufacturer a chance to repair or replace your appliance before you pay the court filing fee. You'll save money and may get relief sooner.
Types of Appliance Company Lawsuits
If no one was injured but you suffered a significant loss (such as from a fire caused by the defective appliance), you may have a consumer protection case and benefit from consulting a consumer protection attorney.
However, if someone was injured, your warranty claim becomes part of a product liability case against the appliance company. Product liability cases are complex, and you would be well served if you get the help of an experienced product liability lawyer.
We explain more about these types of lawsuits below.
Appliances Have Transformed Our Lives
In 2021, more than 500 million small and major appliances were shipped in the United States. Some of the top-rated manufacturers include the following:
These manufacturers generally enjoy excellent reputations and typically provide great appliances. However, not every appliance you buy works like it is supposed to. Perhaps the timer on your new microwave doesn't work. Or your new oven doesn't heat evenly. Maybe your refrigerator seems to work fine only to break down two days after delivery.
Most problems with defective appliances do not result in anyone getting hurt. If your dishwasher breaks down, you may be doing dishes by hand until you can get it repaired. That's inconvenient and frustrating. But if your gas range is defective, your house could burn down, and your family might be injured.
In either case, you may have a claim against the appliance company. The nature of the case depends on the extent of your injuries.
Scenario One: No One Gets Hurt (Breach of Warranty)
Let's start with the happier no-one-getting-hurt scenario. If no one was injured, you would have a straightforward breach of contract case against the appliance company. The theory of liability would be breach of warranty.
Types of Warranties
There are two main types of warranties: implied and expressed.
Express warranty: An express warranty is a spoken or written guaranty that a product will meet a certain level of quality and reliability. For most appliances, the manufacturer includes a written limited warranty with a purchase that guarantees typically that the product will work for a particular period of time if used as instructed.
Implied warranty: An implied warranty is created by law when you buy a consumer product from a merchant. There are two implied warranties:
- Implied warranty of merchantability: This type of warranty applies to the appliance manufacturer and seller. When you buy an appliance, the manufacturer and seller “impliedly" guarantee that it is “merchantable," which means that the product will work when used for its intended purpose.
- Implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose: If the seller of an appliance knows of a particular purpose for it and that you're relying on their skill and judgment, there is an implied warranty that the appliance is fit for that purpose.
An example may be helpful. Suppose you coach a soccer team. As fun as doing laundry can be, you'd rather spend your time on other things instead of washing uniforms. So you go to an appliance store and ask the seller for a machine that could handle all of the uniforms at once. If the seller recommends a particular machine and you buy it based on that recommendation, then it comes with an implied warranty of fitness for that purpose.
Most warranties are accompanied by disclaimers. Disclaimers are designed to protect the appliance company from liability. When you buy an appliance, the manufacturer assumes certain obligations through its warranties. If it wants to eliminate or limit those obligations, it does so through disclaimers.
If you receive a written warranty, federal law prevents the disclaimer of the implied warranty of merchantability. The manufacturer is permitted, however, to limit the duration of the warranty.
How to Sue an Appliance Company for Breach of Warranty
Try to Work It Out
If the appliance company breaches its warranties, you may be able to file a lawsuit. But don't run to the courthouse just yet. Try to work it out with the seller and the manufacturer first. Contact the seller and explain what happened. They may be willing to repair or replace the product.
If that doesn't work, contact the manufacturer. They have a reputation to protect and will likely work with you to ensure that you are satisfied with your purchase. That may mean you get a new appliance or your money back.
Small Claims Court
If that doesn't work, court becomes your option. Most appliances cost a few hundred dollars. Your case would be appropriate for small claims court.
Small claims courts exist to handle claims that fall below an amount set by state law. That amount varies, but it can be as low as $2,500 and as high as $25,000, depending on the state you live in.
The process is straightforward.
- You pay a filing fee and file your written complaint
- The appliance manufacturer pays a filing fee and files a response
- A judge holds a hearing at which each side presents evidence and makes arguments
- You get a court ruling
Simple as that.
You can handle many small claims matters on your own (some states won't let you have a lawyer in small claims court anyway). But you still may want to consult with one if you are concerned about representing yourself in court. They can help you better understand the process and give you confidence.
Maybe your defective appliance started a fire and burned your house down. Your loss would exceed the small claims court limit, so you would need to bring your case in a court that handles the larger amount.
The power of a court to handle a case is called its jurisdiction. If you find yourself in a court with jurisdiction exceeding the small claims limit, you should consider consulting a consumer protection attorney. Forming an attorney-client relationship with an experienced attorney would give you the chance to ask questions about your rights and help you develop confidence in your representation.
Scenario Two: Someone Was Injured (Product Liability)
Now, suppose the defective appliance hurt someone. Instead of a relatively straightforward breach of contract case, your case becomes a more complicated product liability case. Product liability cases generally involve three legal theories: breach of warranty, strict liability, and negligence.
Breach of Warranty
The first theory is breach of warranty, which is the contract-based theory discussed above. The sale of a consumer product, such as an appliance, typically carries an implied warranty of merchantability, along with any written warranties the manufacturer may have included. If you can show the manufacturer breached its warranties, you can recover money for any injuries (including medical bills) you suffered as a result of the breach.
The second theory is strict liability. Strict liability doesn't depend on the appliance manufacturer's intent or carelessness. To make out a strict liability claim, you need to show the following:
- The appliance was defective
- The defect made the appliance unreasonably dangerous
- The defect caused your injuries
An appliance can be defective in three ways. First, it can be designed in a way that is not safe for its intended use (design defect). Second, there can be a mistake made in the manufacturing process that makes the product unsafe (manufacturing defect). Third, the appliance may lack warnings necessary to make it safe for its intended use (failure to warn). Any of these bases support a strict liability claim.
Unlike strict liability, fault does matter if you want to bring a negligence claim. You have to show that the manufacturer or seller failed to use reasonable care in the making and distribution of the appliance. In other words, you have to show that they were careless.
Proving a negligence claim is typically more difficult than a breach of warranty or a strict liability claim. You need evidence of what a reasonable appliance manufacturer and seller would do in making and selling your appliance. You also would need evidence relating to the manufacturer and seller's intent in order to show they were careless.
If you were injured, you may be able to receive damages. Damages are amounts of money intended to compensate you for your losses. In a product liability case, your damages may include money for the following:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning potential
- Pain and suffering
In rare cases, you may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are not intended to compensate you for your losses. They are intended to punish a wrongdoer for outrageous behavior and to deter others from doing the same.
Act Quickly to Sue an Appliance Company
If you do decide to bring a lawsuit, keep in mind that you have a limited amount of time under state law, which varies from state to state. Depending on your claim the time period may be as short as one year and as long as six years if you're suing for personal injuries.
You may want to talk to a lawyer regardless, but if you or someone you care about was injured by a defective appliance, you should certainly consider getting legal advice from an experienced product liability lawyer soon after any injury. They will be able to protect your legal rights. Many offer a free consultation, so it won't cost you anything