DennisBeaverSeptember 26, 2008 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

“Mr. Beaver, I have two questions about umbrellas that could seem a little bit silly,” began an interesting e-mail from Adam, a reader who lives in Fortuna, California. His inquiry is the perfect fact situation to discuss warranty protections given us by California law.

“My work often takes me to places which have the worst, rainiest, windiest weather you can imagine. I have spent good money for so-called Windproof umbrellas, only to have some of them fall apart — literally bent inside — within just a few hours of use.”

“The same thing happened only a month ago when I purchased an expensive, British umbrella from an up-scale luggage store in San Francisco. Chicago weather destroyed it, and the store owner — who recommended it — told me it was one of the best on the market. When I brought it back to him, he completely refused to offer a refund or provide a replacement? Isn’t there some kind of legally required warranty?”

“Finally, is there such a thing as a Windproof umbrella? Do you have any suggestions, or is such a claim merely advertising? Before I forget, I charged that British umbrella to a credit card – do you think they will cancel the charge?”

Warranty rights we take for granted

Adam’s question is a good one, and goes well beyond umbrellas. Virtually all of the products and services we buy are covered by warranties, but most of the time we don’t give it a thought. Something doesn’t work, we bring it back, or send it to a warranty repair center and it is repaired or they give us a replacement.

We take all these things for granted. Adam is justified in being upset when the seller refused him an exchange or refund. The retailer seems to have violated the law, subjecting himself to thousands of dollars in penalties, all over an item costing less than $100. Adam did not know his warranty rights — most people do not, so here’s a little quiz:

Before reading further, see if you can answer these questions:

(1) What kinds of warranties come with the products we buy? What are they called?

(2) Let’s say that you buy a coffee maker which has an instruction booklet, but nothing is said about it having a warranty. Is there one anyway? If so, for how long?

Types of warranties

There are three basic kinds of warranties which come with “Consumer Goods.” Except for clothing and “consumables,” this includes just about everything we buy for personal or family use. As you will see, the law has a good dose of common sense in the way these warranties are defined. They include:

(1) The Implied Warranty of Merchantability;

(2) The Implied Warranty of Fitness for a particular purpose;

(3) The Express Warranty

The Express Warranty is the printed, “This item is guaranteed for one year,” or similar package insert from the manufacturer. If Adam’s umbrella had an Express Warranty and he used it in winds within the design tolerance, there would obviously be a breach of that warranty. However, even without a written warranty, Adam has significant legal protection.

He wanted a durable umbrella, and the seller recommended the one he purchased. The Implied Warranty of Merchantability means that the item “is fit for the ordinary purposes for which it is used.” A coffee maker should make coffee, an umbrella should keep you dry and not fall apart under normal usage, an ink jet printer should print and so on. If not, the item isn’t merchantable and the law requires a refund or exchange.

This warranty also requires that the “item conforms to the way it is described on the container or label.” If umbrella had a tag or came in a package stating that it was “Windproof” up to a certain wind speed, and didn’t live up to the statement, the item isn’t merchantable.

Finally — and here is where Adam has a very strong position — where the customer relies on the “skill and judgment of the seller to select suitable goods, there is an implied warranty that the goods are fit for that purpose.”

Time limits of warranties

With a printed warranty, the time it specifies will control, however, a seller can’t give you an unreasonably short time. By law, a written warranty cannot be shorter than 60 days. If there is no express warranty, California law gives us one year.

Since Adam used a credit card he has the right to contest that charge by promptly contacting the card issuer. In most cases, that must be within 60 days of receiving his credit statement. With a good paper-trail, the charge should be taken off.

Obviously, if he had paid cash, this creates other problems. Small claims court is always possible, but hundreds of miles away from where you live? Not likely. While I have little faith in the Better Business Bureau, registering a complaint can’t hurt.

Is there such a thing as a Windproof Umbrella?

So, does a “Windproof Umbrella” really exist? I asked that question to a guy who loves rainy weather, Steve Asman, CEO of The GustBuster, Ltd. His company manufacturers what are regarded as some of the most durable umbrellas on the market today.

“What literally rips most umbrellas apart is what we call Inversion or wind pressure. You are walking along in the rain, when suddenly a high speed gust of wind comes at you from an unexpected direction, pulling the umbrella backwards and turning it inside out. This happens as there is no place for that air to go, and the umbrella’s structure fails,” Steve explained.

“But a high quality, vented umbrella allows the air to pass through the canopy, at the same time keeping rain from coming through. It can’t be blown apart, as air passes easily through. Of course, there’s more to a durable umbrella than just a vented design, but that is what your reader, Adam, needs to look for the next time he buys an umbrella,” he advised.

GustBuster has an extremely educational web site that I recommend. Just go and click on “watch movie.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.