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An assurance, promise, or guaranty by one party that a particular statement of fact is true and may be relied upon by the other party.

Warranties are used in a variety of commercial situations. In many instances a business may voluntarily make a warranty. In other situations the law implies a warranty where no express warranty was made. Most warranties are made with respect to real estate, insurance, and sales and leases of goods and services.


Real Estate

When land, houses, apartments, and other forms of real estate are sold or leased, the real estate usually comes with at least one warranty. In a sale of realty, the seller usually includes a warranty regarding the title to the property. In some cases the title may have a cloud on it. This means that some party other than the seller has a claim to the property. Such claims may be made by a bank, a judgment debtor, a construction company, or any other party that has obtained a lien against the property. If the seller thinks that the title is clouded, the seller may offer a quitclaim deed. This type of deed contains no promises as to the title and releases the seller from any liability to the buyer if a lien holder later makes a claim to the property.

In other real estate transactions, the seller may warrant that the title is clear. In this situation the seller gives the buyer a general warranty deed. This kind of deed warrants that the title is clear and that the seller will be liable for any defects in the title that existed at the time of the sale.

Other types of warranties related to real estate titles include special warranty deeds and covenants of further assurances. A special warranty deed warrants only that no party made a claim to the property during the seller's ownership. Under a special warranty deed, the seller is not liable for any defects in the title attributable to her predecessors. A seller may add to a deed a covenant of further assurances, which promises that the seller will take any steps necessary to satisfy any claims to the property.

Sellers and buyers of real estate may negotiate warranties regarding the title to the property. They also may negotiate additional warranties regarding the property, such as warranties on plumbing or electricity or any other matter of special concern.

If the seller of real estate is the same party who constructed a building on the property, a warranty of habitability may be automatically included in a sale of the property. A warranty of habitability in the context of a sale of real property is a promise that the dwelling complies with local building codes, was built in a professional manner, and is suitable for human habitation.

Warranties also accompany leases of real property. All states, through either statutes or court decisions, require landlords to observe the warranty of habitability in leases of residential property. In this context the warranty of habitability is a promise that the premises comply with all relevant building codes and that they will be properly maintained and will be fit for habitation throughout the period of the tenancy. Specifically, the landlord promises to make necessary repairs in a prompt and reasonable fashion and to provide such basic services as water, heat, and electricity. If a landlord breaches the implied warranty of habitability, the tenant may withhold rent and sue for any financial losses resulting from the breach.


A warranty in an insurance policy is a promise by the insured party that statements affecting the validity of the contract are true. Most insurance contracts require the insured to make certain warranties. For example, to obtain a health insurance policy, an insured party may have to warrant that he does not suffer from a terminal disease. If a warranty made by an insured party turns out to be untrue, the insurer may cancel the policy and refuse to cover claims.

Not all misstatements made by an insured party give the insurer the right to cancel a policy or refuse a claim. Only misrepresentations on conditions and warranties in the contract give an insurer such rights. To qualify as a condition or warranty, the statement must be expressly included in the contract, and the provision must clearly show that the parties intended that the rights of the insured and insurer would depend on the truth of the statement.

Warranties in insurance contracts can be divided into two types: affirmative or promissory. An affirmative warranty is a statement regarding a fact at the time the contract was made. A promissory warranty is a statement about future facts or about facts that will continue to be true throughout the term of the policy. An untruthful affirmative warranty makes an insurance contract void at its inception. If a promissory warranty becomes true, the insurer may cancel coverage at such time as the warranty becomes untrue. For example, if an insured party warrants that property to be covered by a fire insurance policy will never be used for the mixing of explosives, the insurer may cancel the policy if the insured party decides to start mixing explosives on the property. Warranty provisions should contain language indicating whether they are affirmative or promissory.

Many states have created laws that protect insureds from cancellations due to misrepresented warranties. Courts tend to favor insureds by classifying indefinite warranties as affirmative. Many state legislatures have created laws providing that no misrepresented warranty should cancel an insurance contract if the misrepresentation was not fraudulent and did not increase the risks covered by the policy.

Sales and Leases of Goods

Every contract for the sale or lease of goods contains a warranty that the seller or lessor actually owns the property. Courts hold that this warranty is implied if it is not included in the contract, and a seller or lessor cannot disclaim it.

The two basic types of sales warranties are express warranties and implied warranties. Express warranties are specific promises made by the seller and include oral representations, written representations, descriptions of the goods or services, representations in samples and models, and proof of prior quality of the goods or services. Puffing, or the seller's exaggerated opinion of quality, does not constitute a warranty. For example, if a car salesperson says, "This car will last you a lifetime," a court would likely consider such a statement puffing and not an express warranty.

Implied warranties are warranties that courts assume are implied in sales made by merchants. A merchant is a person who is in the business of selling the good or service being sold in the contract. All sales contracts made by merchants contain an implied warranty of merchantability. This is a promise that the goods, as they are described in the contract, pass without objection in the merchant's trade, are fit for the ordinary purpose for which they are normally used, are adequately contained, packaged, and labeled, and conform to any promises or affirmations of fact made on the container or label. If the goods are fungible, or easily replaced or substituted, such as grain or oil, the replacement goods must be of fair and average quality, fit for their ordinary purposes, and similar to previous goods delivered in the same contract or previous similar contracts.

In some situations a sales contract may include an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. This kind of warranty is a promise that the goods are useful for a special function. Courts infer this warranty is implied when the seller has reason to know of a particular purpose for which the goods are required and also knows that the buyer is relying on the seller's skill and knowledge in choosing the goods. The buyer does not need to specifically inform the seller that the goods are for a particular purpose; it is enough that a reasonable seller would be aware of the purpose.

For example, assume that a farmer, intending to plant no-till soybeans, approaches a seller to buy herbicide. Assume further that the buyer requests a particular herbicide mix but the seller suggests a less expensive mix. If the chemicals fail to kill crabgrass and the farmer has a low yield of soybeans, the farmer could sue the seller for breach of the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose because the seller knew what the farmer required.

In some cases an implied warranty may be lost or waived. If a seller issues a disclaimer—for example, states that the goods are as is—and the buyer examines or refuses to examine the goods, the buyer may lose any implied warranties. One important caveat is that courts will not find that an implied warranty has been waived if, under the circumstances of the sale, it is unreasonable to expect that the buyer would have understood that there were no warranties under the circumstances of the transaction.

A seller may disclaim the warranty of merchantability either orally or in writing, but a seller cannot orally disclaim a warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. A disclaimer of the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose must be in writing, and the disclaimer must be conspicuous to the buyer. Express warranties made by a seller may not be disclaimed. However, if a disclaimer and an express warranty can be construed as consistent, a court may uphold the disclaimer.

Further Readings

Clark, Barkley, and Christopher Smith. 2002. The Law of Product Warranties. 2d ed. Eagan, Minn.: West Group.

Crawford, Franklin E. 2002. "Fit for Its Ordinary Purpose? Tobacco, Fast Food, and the Implied Warranty of Merchantability." Ohio State Law Journal 63 (August).

Glatzova, Vladimira. 1998. "When Is a Warranty Not a Warranty? Common Law Versus Civil Law." International Business Lawyer 26 (November).

See Also


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