A component product’s failure to perform as represented by its manufacturer is a frequent claim in a construction defect cases. Often, defendants of such claims attempt to hide behind general disclaimers and limitations of warranty. Addressing the failure of a component product of yachts, the Federal Court for the New Jersey District recently denied a manufacturer’s summary judgment motion, having concluded that a general disclaimer of warranty will not automatically defeat an express warranty created by representations, descriptions and affirmations set forth in a product bulletin. Viking Yacht Co. v. Composites One LLC, ___ F. Supp.2d ___, 2007 WL 2153243 (D.N.J. July 26, 2007).
Defendant’s distributor sold the plaintiffs, two New Jersey yacht manufacturers, the gel coat used as the outermost surface of the yachts. Gel coat provides an attractive finish while protecting the yacht from water and other materials. Prior to their purchase of gel coat, defendant provided the plaintiffs with its literature for the product, touting its improved flexibility and weather resistance, as compared to a prior gel coat that plaintiffs had purchased from defendant. The literature included a descriptions of the gel coat’s characteristics, a product bulletin, and test data supporting defendant’s claims that the new product was an improvement over the old. Defendant also provided a limited warranty that the gel coat met specifications when shipped as well as a general disclaimer and limitation of warranty, stating that a buyer’s exclusive remedy was replacement of the product or refund of the purchase price.
Plaintiffs conceded that they had not purchased the gel coat based on its improved flexibility. Instead, each tried the new product, hoping that it would demonstrate better “buffback qualities” than the earlier product. Unfortunately, both plaintiffs discovered that the new gel coat cracked extensively on boats that were stored or used in cold weather. Plaintiffs sued defendant, alleging that it new of the gel coat’s inherent problems and failed to disclose them. Defendant replied that it had been unaware that the product was subject to cracking, that the cracking could have been attributable to the plaintiff’s errors in using the gel coat, and that, under the limited warranty, it was not liable for plaintiffs’ damages.
The court disagreed with defendant. Governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, express warranties arise whenever a seller states a fact or makes a promise about the goods becomes part of the basis of the bargain or whenever the seller’s description of the product, specification list, expression of a standard, representation of quality, or provision of a sample or exemplar is a basis of the bargain. A disclaimer of such an express warranty may only be effective if it is “clear and conspicuous,” and written so that “a reasonable person against whom it is to operate ought to have noticed it.” And even if the disclaimer is clear and conspicuous, it will not be found effective to the extent that it is inconsistent with express warranties extended by the seller. Here, the properties of the gel coat were trumpeted on the first page of a flyer while the limitation of warranty was buried within it. Accordingly, the court declined to grant summary judgment to defendant based on its disclaimer and limited warranty.