Can they say this?
September 24, 2010 1:56 PM   Subscribe

What does this legalese really mean?

From a receipt of repair from Toyota:
Disclaimer of warranties. The seller hereby expressly disclaims all warranties, either expressed or implied, including any implied warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose, and neither assumes nor authorizes any other person to assume for it any liability in connection with the sale of said products.
I can't think of an interpretation that would screw a customer, except when everything worked fine.

Yes, hopefully YAAL, BUT YARNML.
posted by plinth to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This legalese is specifically designed to screw the customer. They are basically saying, "we are not promising that the product we sold you will actually work for any purpose whatsoever."

Fortunately, they don't have to promise. The law (in the US at least) generally requires that products work as they are advertised to work.
posted by alms at 2:19 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

But, to expand slightly on what alms has said, "You bought this part from us. We may have installed it for you. We only did so because you told us to. If it breaks, doesn't fit, breaks something else on the car, flies off and hits someone because you told us to put it on your car, you are on your own. Don't come back to us."
posted by Old Geezer at 2:23 PM on September 24, 2010

alms is right, they really can't disclaim this, but the reason they do it is because of the off chance it discourages a potential lawsuit or two down the road because people then read the disclaimer.
posted by inturnaround at 2:29 PM on September 24, 2010

The primary concept is a waiver of Uniform Commercial Code warranties. The UCC is a mostly standardized set of laws that is in place in every state except Louisiana. It sets out rules for the purchase of goods (like the battery or alternator or [insert part] that went into your car), and it covers what happens when the product does not work as it should.

As noted in the language above, the UCC creates some implied warranties. I am far away from my law school days, but I believe the implied warranty of merchantability means basically "what I sold you will be of adequate quality," and the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose means "if I know why/how you want to use this when I sell it to you, I am promising that it will work for that application." For example, as it applied to a computer the merchantability may cover the basic function of the computer and the particular purpose may cover HD video streaming (if that's what I told the seller I was shopping for specifically). If the goods do not meet those implied warranties, there are specific remedies that are spelled out in the code, including some potentially expensive ones like "cover" (where you can buy a replacement item that does what you needed in the first place and charge the seller the difference in price) or damages for dimunition in value.

Toyota, and most other prudent sellers, do not want to open themselves up to liability like that when they replace your battery for $45 (and earn a margin of maybe $15-25). Instead, they generally promise to either refund your money or fix what's broken at their cost. I would bet that there's a "limitation of liability" or similar section in the paperwork that says something to that effect.

To avoid UCC warranty claims, the UCC requires a specific and clear written disclaimer, which is why you see sweeping language like that you cited in most any commercial contract. (Whether such a broad disclaimer of liability as the one you quoted - where they say "we are not responsible for anything no matter what - would be strictly enforceable is another matter, but lawyers tend to overdraft rather than risk leaving a loophole.)

You can debate whether that screws consumers or works to keep prices down overall by limiting liability and risk, but the intention is certainly to avoid cost for sellers.
posted by AgentRocket at 2:29 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Wikipedia entry on implied warranties is pretty decent and addresses your questions.
posted by phoenixy at 2:30 PM on September 24, 2010

Warranties are actually fairly complicated legal things, but to a first approximation a warranty is pretty much what you'd expect: a promise that a good will work in a certain way. One of the principal complications is that the law governing a warranty will vary depending on whether you're dealing with goods or services. Your example (auto service) probably involves both, making the situation even more complicated.

In general, the purpose of the language you quoted is to disclaim implied warranties. Implied warranties arise in a few limited, but very important, circumstances. There is the "implied warranty of merchantability," which applies whenever you buy something from a "merchant" (i.e. someone who deals in goods of that kind) and means more or less that you're getting a product that works like you'd expect. So, if you walk into a 7-11 and buy a pack of gum and find that the gum has rocks in it, you have a remedy in the IWM. It doesn't matter that the clerk didn't say "I warrant that this gum is rock-free".

Another important implied warranty is the "Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose". This applies to anyone (i.e., not just merchants) who sells something knowing that the buyer is relying on his judgment to select an appropriate good.

The implied warranties arise w/o the seller actually saying anything about them. Sellers can avoid the implied warranties by "disclaiming" them. There are rules governing this: for example, in order to disclaim merchantability the disclaimer has to actually use the word "merchantability" (as always, with some exceptions). Sellers almost always disclaim all implied warranties, which is why the language you quote probably sounds a little familiar.

I'm not sure if this is what you were getting at, but you cannot disclaim an express warranty. That is, you can't say "this part will not malfunction for 10,000 miles", and then use a general disclaimer of express warranties like you see above to weasel out of the specific warranty. That won't work.
posted by lex mercatoria at 2:40 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

AgentRocket: Louisiana adopted the UCC in 1990, I believe.
posted by Anitanola at 4:07 PM on September 24, 2010

Anitanola: "AgentRocket: Louisiana adopted the UCC in 1990, I believe."

Apparently LA did not adopt Article 2 (Sales) of the UCC, which contains the stuff on warranties with respect to goods.
posted by lex mercatoria at 5:07 PM on September 24, 2010

It is also worth noting that, in many countries, disclaimers like this are actually ether void or voidable, basically because consumer law recognises that this is basically bullshit.

However companies keep these clauses in their contracts anyways ... because it doesn't hurt, and some consumers will be put off challenging the contract if these exclusions are in black and white (even if technically void).

Charming stuff, really.
posted by jannw at 12:14 AM on September 25, 2010

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