April 14, 2005
Contract and tort in warranty law
Warranty law is one of those areas where contract and tort law seem to be joined at the hip. At one point it might have seemed that strict liability in tort and the accompanying discovery rule would eliminate any role for contract. It hasn't happened though. In a new paper, Defective Products and Product Warranty Claims in Minnesota, Dave Prince of William Mitchell argues that warranty law is still "an important supplement" to tort rules. It's unfortunately one of those articles that will be useful to actual practicing lawyers and judges, but don't let that dissuade you. Click on the link for the abstract.
Warranty law is an important supplement to tort law principles governing liability for defective products. Warranties arise from promises or assertions associated with either the sale of a product or some other transfer of a product for value. Such promises or assertions about a product may be express, made in the form of the seller's statements about the qualities or attributes of the product, or they may simply be implied as a matter of policy.
Although warranty law is generally regarded as part of the body of contract law, the origins of warranty lie in tort. Important developments in contract law form a critical part of the developmental history of products liability law. Once tort law rejected privity as a limitation on the negligence law duty to foreseeable victims of personal or property injuries resulting from defective products, contract law incorporated the idea of warranties implied as a matter of law to make product manufacturers strictly liable for harms caused by defective products. This led ultimately to the recognition that the manufacturer's strict liability was not based on an agreement between the manufacturer and the plaintiff but imposed instead by law for reasons of policy. "[T]he liability is not one governed by law of contract but by the law of strict liability in tort."
Warranty law as it relates to the sale of products evolved as a matter of common law and then was eventually codified. In Minnesota, warranty law is expressed in chapter 336 of the Minnesota Statues, Minnesota's version of the Uniform Commercial Code (U.C.C.), and in judicial interpretations of that statute, particularly Article 2 governing the sale of goods. Additional important sources of warranty law in Minnesota include state statutes designed to protect consumers gainst certain deceptive and unfair trade practices and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
There is substantial similarity between Minnesota warranty law under the U.C.C. and products liability in tort, but there are also important differences.
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