Four Things Consumers Need to Know About Their Legal Rights

As a consumer, you have the right to purchase products that are constructed safely and perform as advertised. Manufacturers and advertisers have the responsibility of offering consistently and safely-made products, and accurately representing those products to the public. In some cases, a product may fail to meet its claimed capabilities, injure or otherwise harm a consumer, or fail to perform as advertised in some way. Consumers are afforded an array of protections to prevent fraud, misinformation, and exploitation by businesses.

THE FTC PROTECTS CONSUMERS AND MAINTAINS GOOD BUSINESS

Gone are the days when snake oil salesmen traveled the lands exploiting unwary customers with supposed miracle cures and panaceas that typically amounted to little more than ineffective alcoholic concoctions or herbal distillations. Modern consumers also no longer have to contend with predatory business owners cornering and exploiting industries through hostile takeovers and price gouging.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) exists to protect consumers from exploitation and maintain a fair marketplace. The Bureau of Consumer Protection in particular is charged with several responsibilities aimed at maintaining a fair and healthy market while protecting the rights of consumers. The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection offers the following services:

  • Collecting, analyzing, and investigating consumer complaints about products and businesses.
  • Taking legal action against individuals and organizations that break the law.
  • Consistently reassessing the market and developing rules to protect consumers and maintain an honest and fair marketplace.
  • Providing educational materials to businesses about their responsibilities to consumers and to consumers about their rights and what they should legally expect from businesses.

KNOW HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT AS A CONSUMER

When you purchase an item, that product must adhere to the laws regarding similar products, contain no unnecessary or undeclared risks associated with ownership or use of the product, and it must perform as advertised. Manufacturers must also provide clear instructions for proper use, a comprehensive list of intended uses of the product, and a warning of possible harm that may come from using the product.

Filing a consumer complaint is a fairly straightforward process:

  • Gather all of the documentation and paperwork associated with the product, including any receipts, contracts, warranty literature, and any other invoices or documents relevant to your situation.
  • Contact the manufacturer and make it aware of your complaint. In some situations, the manufacturer will offer a replacement or other form of compensation. However, if your unique situation involved serious injury or other damages, you may need to escalate the situation by contacting regulatory bodies, state and federal licensing boards, and the FTC.
  • If you cannot satisfactorily resolve your issue through the above steps, take your complaint to court. Contact an attorney familiar with consumer rights and product liability law to begin the process.

Bear in mind that some contracts may require arbitration. Arbitration means an attempt to resolve a legal issue without filing a lawsuit. If you entered into a contract with a company you intend to sue, you must be mindful of any arbitration clauses. Arbitration clauses may prevent you from maintaining a lawsuit in court.

UNDERSTAND PRODUCT LIABILITY AND WARRANTY LAW

If a product harms you or causes any damage, it’s important to understand your rights under product liability law. Products liability law governs the responsibilities businesses owe to consumers. If a product harms a consumer, the responsible party may be anyone along the supply chain between the original suppliers of raw materials for the manufacture of that product all the way to the retailer where the end-user purchased it.

Products can be defective in three ways:

  • Defective by design. An entire line of products may be inherently flawed due to poor design or a flaw that went unnoticed until after the product entered the market.
  • Defective by construction. Flaws often occur during a product’s manufacture. A poor quality material, defective assembly, or other physical defects may affect random individual units or entire lots of products.
  • Warranty defects. Advertisers must be certain to accurately reflect a product’s capabilities and intended uses. Additionally, products must carry thorough instructions for use and safety warnings.

In most legal cases, the burden of proof falls on the accuser: the plaintiff must substantiate his or her complaint with sufficient evidence. Product liability claims differ from other forms of lawsuits in that the plaintiff doesn’t necessarily need to establish that the defendant was negligent—they need only prove that the product is defective. A product may be considered defective if a reasonable consumer would believe the product contains a defective condition that is unreasonably dangerous.

As a consumer, you should also understand the value of warranties. A consumer warranty is essentially a manufacturer’s guarantee that a product will perform as advertised for its intended purpose for a reasonable time. Warranties are meant to ensure product quality and reliability, and manufacturers will often honor warranties and compensate customers in good faith.

Some manufacturers include lifetime warranties as a symbol of their products’ reliability and quality and encourage consumer trust. Lifetime warranties typically cover the product for the duration of that product’s presence on the market. Usually, expected and reasonable wear and tear through normal use isn’t covered by a lifetime warranty. Consumers must also take care not to void the warranty of the products they use. Some products, especially consumer electronics, will include thorough stipulations for proper uses of the product, as well as what actions or uses will void the included warranty.

RETAIN LEGAL COUNSEL

As a consumer, you may have the right to file a lawsuit against a manufacturer if it cannot compensate you or provide a replacement or refund for a defective product. When a product fails to perform as advertised or meet acceptable standards, the parties responsible may have a legal obligation to address the issue.

When a product harms or otherwise damages a consumer through no fault of the user, the manufacturer may be responsible for the damage done. In such instances, retaining reliable legal counsel is one step an injured consumer may take to not only recover personal losses but also encourage ongoing good business by holding manufacturers accountable for the quality and reliability of their products.

Sources:

About the Bureau of Consumer Protection
Filing a Consumer Complaint
What is Product Liability?
Consumer Warranty Basics

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