Volume 13, Issue 7 - September 2012
From The Publisher
Take a Long Hard Look at Warranties
I am sure you have heard experts, including attorney Chip Gentry of Carson and Coil PC, give this warning: Manufacturers must be explicitly clear when it comes to their product warranties. If you don’t believe Chip, and others like him, a recent class action complaint filed against MI Windows and Doors (MIWD) (see page 16), really hammers this point home. Although the class had not been certified by the courts at press time, it still gives manufacturers something to think about when it comes to both installing product and developing warranties.
When reading the court documents there were two things that struck me the most, and I was eager to run these items by Gentry to gain his take on the effect this complaint may have on other companies.
First, I am sure we are all aware that even though an installer may do a shoddy job, most often, a customer will bring his complaints to the door or window manufacturer—not the installer. That is true in this case as well. The complaint seems to put all the blame squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturer.
“I do think it’s odd that they aren’t looking at the installer, as well,” says Gentry, who adds there could be a few reasons for this strategy. That could include anything from a defunct installer or a variety of other factors.
“They are clearly going after the manufacturer and bypassing the installer and that may be a strategic decision,” says Gentry.
Another item in the court documents that should give all manufacturers pause has to do with the warranty, specifically the fact that the plaintiffs say they never saw it.
“MIWD ships a warranty with its windows,” documents state. “However, homeowners generally do not receive the warranty and are not on notice of its limitations, as the window stickers are typically removed by the builder to improve the appearance of the home.”
My first reaction to that fact was to agree with all manufacturers who ship the warranties with their products. Is it their responsibility to make sure the homeowner sees it? That seems a little much to me. But you could also argue, as Gentry does, that this goes back to a “best practices approach.”
He tells his clients that they should go one step further.
“When your sales staff is out selling a window, tell them to provide the warranty as part of the contract package so they have it,” says Gentry. “The manufacturer can then say, ‘when we reached an agreement our warranty was part of the negotiations.’ This is a case that underscores why I tell my clients to change that process.”
But how many do? Maybe a mere ten percent, says Gentry, who also argues against my claim of stating that the manufacturer shipped the warranty therefore they are covered.
“The customer can argue: ‘I never saw it, so how can it be binding?’ You can’t put it on the customer to ask for it. If you are making what you promise and promise what you make you have to do that upfront,” he says.