A dealer/retailer cannot shy away from responsibility when it comes to defective goods

When we buy a product and it turns out to be defective, we immediately take it to the dealer/retailer expecting a quick apology and a replacement or refund. Unfortunately, more often than not, it turns out to be a tormenting experience as the dealer turns defensive and refuses to own up responsibility. He will either blame us stating that we had deliberately damaged the product or will pass the buck on to the manufacturer stating that the responsibility for the defect rests solely with the manufacturer.

Sunil was one such affected person. Recently, he purchased a mobile phone from a dealer and within a day of purchase there were problems. Despite charging, the charge did not hold for long and the display went blank. Sunil approached the retailer at once and asked for a replacement. This request was refused point blank but, the dealer took the phone and agreed to get it repaired. Sunil trusted him and handed over the phone. After a week, the instrument was returned after repairs. Nevertheless, to his dismay, the same issues continued from the very next day. Sunil went to the dealer again and demanded a replacement. Even so, the retailer did not entertain this and asked Sunil to approach the manufacturer for further action. The manufacturer failed to respond and a disconcerted Sunil is likely to file his complaint against the dealer and the manufacturer, before the Consumer Forum.

The Consumer Fora has, in many cases, held that retailers cannot shy away from taking responsibility of defective goods which they had sold. The dealer, along with the manufacturer, is equally liable for poor quality goods and therefore, an aggrieved consumer can hold both of them liable and may claim compensation from either of them.

In the case of M. Subba Reddy vs Avula Venkata Reddy that came up before the National Commission, the decision of the District Forum and State Commission, ordering compensation of Rs.7500/- for sale of defective seeds was challenged. The counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant claimed that the appellant was a dealer and was consequently not personally liable for the defective seeds and therefore, order ought not to have been passed against him without including the manufacturer as a party. The Commission held that though it would have been appropriate to include the manufacturer, since the dealer had sold the seeds to the complainant, the complaint was certainly maintainable and added that if the appellant had any grievance, it was open to him to recover the amount ordered from the manufacturer.

Similarly, in the case of Harmohinder Singh vs. Anil Sehgal, the complainant purchased an assembled air-conditioner from the opposite party. Soon after, the compressor became defective. The District Forum concluded that since the compressor was not manufactured by the opposite party, he could not be held responsible for its manufacturing defects and thus dismissed the complaint. The complainant preferred an appeal before the State Commission, wherein, the Commission held that a dealer cannot avoid his liability simply on the ground that he was not a manufacturer. It is his responsibility to carry out the terms of the warranty and in turn, he may involve the manufacturer in fulfilling his obligations under warranty. This was upheld by the National Commission.

Thus, it is important for the dealers/retailers not to shirk responsibility but to be more upbeat so that the consumers’ confidence in the product and the company increases.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)

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