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Originally appeared in the November 1997 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

100 % Guarantee

BY ANDREW J. McCLURG

Warranty law has always been fraught with pitfalls for the unwary lawyer. Drafting warranties for modern consumers presents special problems because of their higher expectations. Follow these tips and sample warranty provisions to avoid legal tangles:

1. Marketing studies show today’s purchasers like warranties that are “consumer-friendly.” Use this proven opener:

Hello Smart Shopper! My, you’re looking good today. How are the little ones? Feeling blue because your new product turned out to be a piece of junk? Call to speak to one of our Customer Account Therapists. And remember, we love you.

2. Consumers appreciate honesty. When attempting to limit warranty coverage, be sure to use plain language:

Very Limited Warranty. This product is of extremely low quality. We made it that way on purpose so we could sell it really cheap. Our Only Warranty In the Universe: If the product malfunctions in any way, return it to our service center and we’ll chunk it for you. Be sure to include $19.95 for shipping and handling.

3. Modern consumers like to feel a close connection with the corporations they buy from. Offering a convenient telephone “help-line” bolsters consumer confidence:

Questions? Complaints? We encourage you to call our toll-free number any time we’re not here. We offer you a variety of choices because we care about your business: weekdays after 5:00 pm, weekends and holidays. Listen to the menu, use the phone buttons to enter your complaint, ATM code and the lyrics to Boogie Fever, hit the # sign, hang up and we’ll call you back on the expiration date of your product warranty.

4. Health-conscious consumers are highly concerned about the fat content in their diet. This presents a dilemma for food sellers because of the exact correlation between flavor and cubic yards of fat. Present unfavorable nutritional information in the best light possible:

Fat content. In tests, one teaspoon of this product was found to burst the hearts of laboratory rats. However, our researchers believe these rats were already at risk due to a diet high in dairy content (primarily cheese) and probable hypertension from a daily routine of running for their lives.

WARRANTY: Humor writer does not guarantee laughs. Individual chuckling may vary. Consult physician before guffawing. Busting a gut is not recommended.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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