You may have heard of the old legal rule Caveat emptor, Latin for “Let the buyer beware.” If a buyer purchased shoddy goods, paid exorbitant prices, or failed to read the fine print in a contract, any problem was considered to be his own fault. This is still the law in the case of some business deals, but state and federal laws protect consumers in most transactions.
A consumer loan or transaction is for the purchase of goods or services for personal, family, or household purposes, and sometimes for agricultural purposes. Getting out of bad deals. Federal and state laws ban false, fraudulent, and deceptive advertising. Not only outright falsehoods are banned, but also deceptive practices such as “bait and switch” advertising, in which a merchant advertises a bargain to get you into his store (the bait), then tells you the bargain item is sold out and talks you into buying something more expensive (the switch).
You may be able to cancel a sale or a contract on grounds of fraudulent advertising, but it is hard to prove. Mere sales talk or exaggeration about a product is not enough; and if a salesman does tell an outright lie, he will probably deny it. The best course is not to be taken in by tricky advertising in the first place. Many agencies have published pamphlets and booklets telling consumers what to look out for. Write your state consumer agency, or the Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009.
If you buy something by mail, you can cancel the order and get your money back if the goods are not shipped within 30 days. You absolutely do not have to pay for unsolicited goods sent through the mail. You do not have to send them back either. Just treat them as a gift. Door-to-door sales. If you sign a contract with a door-to-door salesman, you have three business days to think it over. Within this period, you can cancel the sale and get back any payments just by giving written notice to the seller. However, if you request immediate delivery, you lose this right.
A warranty is a guarantee or promise about the quality or condition of goods and products; sometimes it includes a promise to repair. An express warranty is one actually made by the manufacturer or seller. Whether or not he makes an express warranty, the law regards him as making an implied warranty that the goods are fit for the purpose they are being purchased for. The seller can avoid this, however, by specifically stating that he makes no warranties whatsoever; this statement is called a disclaimer.
If the goods do not live up to the warranty, the buyer can sue for damages or get his money back. Federal law. A seller who makes a written warranty must designate the warranty as full or limited. Under a full warranty, if repeated attempts to repair a product fail, the consumer must be given the choice of a replacement or his money back.
What redress is available if someone is injured by an exploding bottle, contaminated food, or an appliance that catches fire? The buyer can sue under the product warranty. But suppose someone else is hurt, or the seller has specifically disclaimed any warranties?
In the past, it was necessary to prove the injury was caused by negligent or improper manufacture or handling of the product. Sometimes negligence is obvious(a dead mouse is found in a bottle of soda). But in many cases it may be difficult to prove negligence in manufacture, or to determine just who was at fault.
The Modern Trend
Today, many states impose strict liability on anyone who sells a consumer product, from the manufacturer to the retailer. The injured person need only prove that the product was defective and caused the injury. The rule of strict liability is applied in most cases involving food, drugs and medicines, clothing, cosmetics, and other products intended for bodily use, and products inherently dangerous, such as automobiles. In other cases, it may still be necessary to prove negligence in manufacturing. It depends on state law.