Dealing with defective products
When we purchase a product from a seller, characteristics such as type, amount, quality, attributes and functions must correspond to what we have agreed to with the seller.
If any of these characteristics are different to what we were promised at the time of sale, we are legally entitled to a remedy. The same applies to cases where the purchased product is defective, such as when a product has a manufacturing defect. A product is also considered defective when it is not fit for the purpose for which goods of the same type are normally used.
The law also specifies that goods bought must be fit for the particular purpose for which we require them and which we made known to the trader at the time of conclusion of the contract. The products bought must also correspond to any public statements made on the goods by the trader or producer.
If any of these happen, the law protects us by making the trader liable to provide a free solution. The legal remedies available are, in the first instance, to have the defective goods repaired or replaced.
If these two remedies are not possible or may cause us a significant inconvenience, we are entitled to a cash refund.
It is important to emphasise that it is exclusively the seller’s responsibility to put things right. However, in practice, if there is an agreement between trader and agent, it can be referred to the agent as long as the problem is solved.
If a defect becomes evident within six months of purchase, the product is assumed to have been defective at the time of purchase and therefore the defect is covered by the seller’s liability.
The maximum period of time during which we can claim a legal redress is two years from delivery of the goods. However, these two years do not apply to perishable items or other goods that are not expected to last due to their short life expectancy.
We should be aware that there are certain defects that the seller is not liable to provide a remedy for. Cases in point are defects caused by regular wear and tear. Mishandling of the product and failure to comply with instructions for use or maintenance are other situations the law does not cover.
As consumers we must choose the right products that give us the best value for our money and taking care of the products we buy and using them according the seller’s or manufacturer’s instructions.
We are also not legally covered if we were aware of the defect before we bought the product, or had the possibility to detect the defect on inspection of the goods before buying them. Change-of-mind situations, or when goods bought are not appropriate due to colour, size or style, are also excluded by law.
Should we be interested in buying seconds or damaged items because the selling price makes it look worthwhile, it is our right to have any specific defect on a product pointed out to us before we buy it.
Furthermore, even though we cannot return the item on the basis of the defect we were aware of, the law still protects us if we discover another defect.
Another responsibility we have is to notify the trader of any lack of conformity the product has, in writing and within a maximum period of two months from when we detected the defect or lack of conformity.
Keeping the proof of purchase is also important. This is an important document the seller might ask us for before proceeding with providing us the legal remedy we are entitled to. The proof of purchase can either be the fiscal receipt or a bank or credit card statement.
Ms Vella is senior information officer, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.