What is a breach-of-warranty products liability claim?

Warranties are express or implied representations of fact that the law will enforce against the person who made them. Products liability law is concerned with three types of warranties relating to a product’s quality or fitness for use: express warranties, the implied warranty of merchantability, and the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. These warranties are part of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which every state has adopted.

An express warranty is created in one of three ways: through an affirmation of fact about the goods made by the supplier of the goods to the purchaser, which becomes a part of the basis of the bargain; through a description of the goods that becomes a part of the basis of the bargain; or through a sample or model that is made part of the basis of the bargain. An express warranty can be words spoken during sale negotiations, or it may be written into the sales contract or on tags attached to the product or a sample. The express warranty may have been part of an earlier purchase of the same product, or it may arise from product publicity. Mere sales “fluff,” however, such as “This is the greatest product you’ll ever buy,” does not create an express warranty.

Implied warranties are created and imposed by law and they accompany the transfer of title to goods unless they are expressly and clearly limited or excluded by the contract. The UCC states that contractual limitations on liability for personal injuries, however, are unconscionable and therefore will not be enforced.

The implied warranty of merchantability requires that products and their containers meet certain minimum quality standards, primarily that they be fit for the ordinary purposes for which they are sold. This warranty includes a reasonable standard of safety. The implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose imposes similar requirements when the seller knows or has reason to know of the particular purpose for which the goods are required. If the seller recommends a particular product to meet the buyer’s specific needs, it warrants that the product is fit for those purposes.

An action for the breach of one of these warranties is like a strict liability claim, in that no negligence or other fault needs to be shown. There are some limitations, however. For instance, the seller must receive prompt notice of the breach as a condition to imposing liability, and the buyer must have relied on the warranty. When personal injury rather than property damage is involved, the courts are less likely to strictly enforce these defenses.