The court of appeal allowed, on February 4th of this year, a class action to proceed against seven major furniture and appliance Quebec-based retailers located in Fortier c. Meubles Léon Ltée. The plaintiffs allege that they were offered extended warranty plans by these merchants without ever being informed about the existence of the legal warranty that applies to the movable assets being sold. Moreover, the class-action lawsuit alleges that these practices constitute false and misleading representations under the Consumer Protection Act (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”) because the merchants implied that the free warranty provided with the sold product only lasts one year. To put it another way, the retailers’ representations led the customers believe that one year after buying the product, they wouldn’t have any other choice but to bear the repair and replacement costs. This large-scale litigation case raises the following question: what represents the legal warranty and how does it protect consumers?
Even though we are still waiting for the final judgement on the merits of this case, we take this opportunity to devote some attention to an overview of the legal warranty and what it implies.
First, it is important to mention that the legal warranty, which the legislator codified in Sections 37 and 28 of the Act, stipulates that goods forming the object of a contract must be fit for the purposes for which goods of that kind are ordinarily used. This should be the case for a reasonable length of time, despite anything that might be stipulated otherwise in the conventional agreement concluded with the merchant. Also, the legal warranty automatically applies to cover a purchased movable good and the consumer does not need to take any additional steps before it becomes effective. This explains why it is important to beware of the customary industry practices and to avoid assuming the costs of repair or replacement of a product when the manufacturer’s warranty period, that usually lasts a year or two, is expired.
Furthermore, a perusal of this topic raises another important question: what is meant by “a reasonable length of time”? As there is no particular section in any piece of legislation specifying what is the length of time during which a good must be durable in normal use, this is a matter that is assessed by the courts in the light of the relevant circumstances pertaining to each individual good that is the subject-matter of the proceedings.
Thus, in a judgment of the Court of Quebec from 2007, the Tribunal held that the length of the legal warranty must be assessed with regard to the price of the goods, the conditions of their use and the stipulations of the conventional contract. In this case, the consumer had bought a high-end television set that he paid close to $ 4 000, and this was one of the factors that drove the court to the conclusion that the device should have had a longer service life than sixty months.
In another ruling of 2006, the same court was unequivocal: the submersible pump supplying the consumer’s residence with water should have had a product-life that significantly exceeded seven months. Consequently, the Tribunal ordered the seller to pay to the buyer the amount of $ 747,66 representing the labour cost for the replacement of the defective pump.
Finally, in a more recent judgement, the court stated that in the case of a Kenmore front-loading automating clothes washer that started leaking only after 13 months of ordinary usage, the buyer was entitled to demand compensation from the manufacturer, the seller and the distributor.
Given the above, it is essential to be vigilant when purchasing consumer goods because of the high turnover rate of staff in the retail sector, which makes it difficult for merchants to ensure that they carry out their activities within the framework of laws in force and that they respect what is required from them, notably to inform the purchasers about the legal warranty before suggesting that they purchase an extended warranty in accordance with section 228.1 of the Act. Knowing your rights and the extent of the legal warranty can help you avoid numerous fees such as the ones you are required to pay for the acquisition of a conventional warranty that has substantially the same effects as the legal one. In addition, this can avoid the added cost of the maintenance or repair of a property that is still under warranty.
Written with the valued contribution of Mrs. Marylise Soporan, Bar Articling Student.
For additional information on the subject, follow the links below:
• Sears, Brault & Martineau face class-action suit over extended warranties (CBC/Radio-Canada)
• Being aware of legal warranties (Office de la protection du consommateur)