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What Is the Warranty of Merchantability?

If you’ve ever returned a product that just didn’t work, you’ve benefited from the implied warrant of merchantability. This warranty guarantees that a product sold to you by a merchant will work when used for its intended purposes. It's an implied warranty, meaning it exists without needing to be written or spoken. A commercial seller doesn’t have to tell you that the product is guaranteed to work for its usual purpose because the law itself creates that warranty.

The warranty of merchantability is based off the idea that the seller is in a better state to know whether a product will perform properly. It encourages merchants to ensure the quality of their products before placing them on the market. After all, a seller is in a better place to know if a car isn't in an adequate state to drive, a blender is too slow to blend food, or seeds too old to sprout new crops.

What the Warranty of Merchantability Guarantees

An implied warranty for merchantability guarantees that a product will work as expected. If your oven can't maintain a stable temperature, it can't be relied upon to work properly and has violated the implied warranty of merchantability. Under the Uniform Commercial Code, adopted in some form in all states but Louisiana, this warranty applies to the goods of any merchant who regularly deals in the type of merchandise sold.

The warranty guarantees that the product sold will:

  • Pass without objection in the trade
  • Be of uniform quality and quantity
  • Be fit for its ordinary purposes
  • Be adequately packaged and labeled
  • Conform to its labels

For example, a car sold must be of decent enough quality that other car salespeople would not object to it, must be good enough for its usual purpose of transportation, and must be properly labeled. If a buyer can show that the car would not conform to the standards of the trade, that it was not fit for transportation or that it was mislabeled, perhaps with the wrong model or year, the buyer can show a breach of the implied warranty of merchantability.

Guaranteed to Work for Its Intended Purpose

For the implied warranty of merchantability to be violated, the product must fail to work as it's normally used. Most disagreements revolve around whether the use of a product matched its “intended purpose” or "ordinary use." For example, if a baker purchases an oven intended for household use and proceeds to use it in a commercial kitchen, he might not be using it for its intended purpose. However, if he can show that the oven is faulty even when used under normal, household circumstances, despite him buying it for commercial purposes, he can show that it violated its warranty.

Used Goods

The warranty of merchantability covers new as well as used goods. If the goods are used, most states add an extra caveat. Used goods are guaranteed to work for their intended purposes, given their condition at the time of resale. Thus, the warranty does not require that second-hand goods work as well as new ones, but will still guarantee that they work as expected, given their condition.

Products Sold “As Is” or with Disclaimers

Some, but not all, states allow merchants to avoid the warranty of merchantability through disclaimers or by selling the product “as is.” In most states, for a seller to disclaim the warranty, the disclaimer must be in writing and conspicuous; the buyer must be aware that the warranty won’t cover the product. A seller can do this by selling the product “as is” or by specifically saying that it's disclaiming the warranty of merchantability.

Many states don’t allow merchants to avoid implied warranties for consumer goods. In these states, disclaimers like “as is” are essentially meaningless. If the product doesn’t work as intended, the buyer can still return the items. “As is” disclaimers of the warranty of merchantability are limited or not allowed on consumer goods in the District of Columbia and the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

If You Think a Product Violates the Warranty of Merchantability

The implied warranty of merchantability is found in all states, but the specifics of the law can vary given the circumstances of your case and your location. If you believe you’ve purchased a product that is unfit for its typical use, consider contacting a consumer protection lawyer to discuss the laws in your state.

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