I bought something that doesn’t work

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Sarah buys furniture from Mark who promised her that the furniture is of good quality. However, he doesn’t notify her about problems with the furniture. Later, Sarah discovers that some of the chairs she bought have faulty joints, meaning they can’t be used properly. This is what’s called a latent defect and Sarah will be able to claim from Mark for the furniture not fulfilling its purpose.

A patent defect or a latent defect?

A patent defect is when there’s a problem with a purchased item but it was clearly visible and obvious to the buyer when the contract was signed. If the furniture that Sarah bought had a patent defect, such as a chair leg missing, it would be assumed that she knew about it and the law would not protect her.

NOTE: A defect is something that makes the product less useful or completely useless. A product not looking as good as you thought is not a defect. A piece of furniture with a stain on it can still be used normally. If the product has broken or missing parts, meaning it can’t be used properly, it’s a defect.

If the product you bought has a defect affecting its usability and purpose, then the seller is liable and you as the buyer can claim from them. You should also take into account if the contract had a “voetstoots” clause, meaning that you are buying a product based on its appearance or “as is”. If this is the case the seller would not be held accountable for any defects with the product, latent or patent.

What can I get back from the seller?

If the product you bought has a latent defect you can get a price reduction or a refund for the price you paid. A price reduction is the difference between the price you paid and the true value of the product. A full refund includes the price you paid, interest, maintenance costs and the cost of receiving the product. A full refund would also mean that you need to return the product that you got under the contract.

If a defect has caused you harm or damaged your property, for instance, you could possibly also claim this amount as compensation from the seller.

Who is a trader and who is a seller?

It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between someone who is a trader and a seller. A trader is someone who makes a living from selling products, whereas a seller is an ordinary person like Mark in the example above. A trader who specialises in particular products and boasts having a specialized knowledge is held to a higher standard than an ordinary seller.

Sales talk or latent defect

It’s normal for sellers or traders to do the best to sell their product. This usually means “sales talk” or boasting about the products value and usefulness. They are allowed to do this, however, if they make statements about the product that turn out to be false, such as claiming the product can do something that it actually can’t, the law will be in your favour and protect you in the same way as a latent defect.

Before you agree to buy anything from a seller or a trader make sure you inspect the product first and make note of any defects there might be. If you neglect to inspect the product it could be more difficult for you to get compensation from the seller if there is a problem in the future.

Reference

  • “What you should know about Contracts”. 2009. The Western Cape Office of the Consumer Protector. Department of Economic Development and Tourism. Accessed from: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/ on 13/05/2016.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)