While most companies let people return a product a month or two after purchase if something goes wrong, some companies go above and beyond by offering a lifetime guarantee. The idea is to ensure customers that nothing will go wrong with the product during its lifetime, and if something does go wrong, the company will either replace the item or reimburse them the cost of the item. A lifetime guarantee is a sign that the company believes in the quality of its products and will go to great lengths to make sure their customers remain satisfied.
But some people choose to interpret “lifetime warranty” to mean the product is guaranteed to last for the rest of their lifetime, rather than the standard lifetime of the product. According to Shawn O. Gorman, the Executive Chairman of L.L. Bean, some customers were taking advantage of the company’s lifetime warranty to mean anything they bought from the company would not be subject to wear and tear, and if it were, the company should reimburse them for the item or replace it.
According to an open letter to the public released by the company on February 9th, some people were taking advantage of the lifetime guarantee by trying to get replacements or reimbursements for products several years after they had been purchased. Some had even sought replacements or reimbursements for used L.L. Bean items they had bought at garage sales. As a result, the company recently decided to get rid of its century-old lifetime guarantee and to replace it with a one-year warranty – which can only be used if the customer still has their receipt. The company said it will still work with customers who want to return or get reimbursed for a product more than a year after the date of purchase, but only if the product is defective.
Three days after the company announced that it would be getting rid of its lifetime warranty, Victor Bondi sued the company for breach of express warranty and unjust enrichment. The complaint alleged violations of the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act as well as the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act. Bondi was seeking certification of a national class of consumers, with a subclass of Illinois consumers, who had bought products from L.L. Bean prior to the company’s February 9th announcement. But U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman dismissed all of Bondi’s claims, putting an end to the proposed consumer class action lawsuit before it had ever really begun.
In his statement, Judge Gettleman said that, in order to file a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, plaintiffs had to first prove that they had suffered an injury in fact. He went on to define an “injury in fact” as an invasion of an interest protected by the law, that is both particular and concrete. The plaintiff also needs to be able to prove they’ve already suffered the injury, or that they are about to suffer an injury as a direct result of the defendant’s actions.
According to Judge Gettleman, Bondi failed to prove that any of these applied to his situation or to provide evidence that he tried to return any L.L. Bean items he had bought prior to February 9th. Nor did Bondi suggest he would not have bought the items if they had not come with a lifetime warranty. As a result, Judge Gettleman decided that Bondi did not have an injury in fact, so he dismissed the proposed consumer class action lawsuit.
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