Little is more exasperating to the Maine consumer than to have a new product break or fail shortly after purchase, or even later. The consumer who parts with his hard-earned cash after researching the market closely often builds very high expectations as to how this product will improve the quality of his life. When the product breaks or otherwise fails, then crestfallen consumers focus on the fine print included in any warranty associated with the product to seek consumer justice.
Manufacturers and merchants generally provide an express warranty with new products sold. These warranties can be effective for 90 days or more, perhaps up to a year or so. What most consumers fail to recognize is that existing Maine law provides an “implied warranty of merchantability.” This warranty has a life of four years from the date of purchase. The implied warranty of merchantability means that the product will be fit for the ordinary purposes for which it is used. Whether the consumer is buying a new car, a mobile home or a clothes dryer, this Maine law applies if the purchase is for family or personal use. Used automobiles are excluded from this law, but other used products may be included.
The consumer may be able to make a claim if the following conditions are met:
. The item is seriously defective.
. The purchaser has not abused the product.
. The purchased item was bought less than four years ago and is still within its normal expected “useful life” (in other words, the item has not just worn out).
One of the best avenues the consumer can take to protect his warranty rights is to write a letter to the seller and the manufacturer as soon as a problem is detected, with copies forwarded to the Maine Attorney General’s Office. This action in effect “freezes” or “preserves” express warranty rights the consumer has to the time of the complaint.
While looking at the fine print of a manufacturer’s product warranty, there is often found (if they are not found, then the Maine Attorney General’s Office should be contacted) words such as, “Your rights may vary from state to state, please check your own state laws for additional rights” or the related “Some states prohibit limitation of warranty rights or remedies.” Bingo! Maine’s Implied Warranty does in fact provide for additional rights to the consumer.
This is the law of the land in the Pine Tree State, but does this law have real teeth? At Northeast CONTACT, our experience with several cases brought forward by consumers has not been particularly positive. Several CONTACT members and clients are dealing with the warranties on defective electronic goods, televisions, etc., purchased at local, big box, national electronics chains. These companies often have refused to recognize Maine’s Implied Warranty law and now their practice is to refer unhappy customers to their big box legal departments, often located in other states. This has not been helpful in fulfilling the rights of Maine consumers. Maine merchants, even if they are “from away,” and the Attorney General’s Office need to work more effectively to meet the spirit and the letter of this statute.
Much more information on Maine’s Implied Warranty law can be easily found at the state Web site, www.maine.gov./ag. The educated consumer who closely reads his manufacturer’s warranty as well as the Maine Implied Warranty law and is subsequently willing to speak up and advocate for his rights is not only helping himself receive consumer justice, but also helping all consumers receive their rights under existing Maine law.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT for Better Business Inc., Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit organization. An individual annual membership is $25; business memberships start at $125. For consumer help and information, write: Consumer Forum, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329.