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Customers have a responsibility to act with due care when they enter your store and browse your goods. Therefore, they may be liable if they break a product in-store. If they are liable, you can ask for payment. However, if your actions contribute to the broken item, then the customer may not have to pay. This article will explain whether you are responsible if a customer breaks one of your products in-store.

Determining Who Is At Fault For the Breakage

When you sell products to consumers in New Zealand, you need to comply with consumer law. This means ensuring that your products meet the consumer guarantees that apply to them under the Consumer Guarantees Act. If you fail to meet this standard, then you must provide the customer with a remedy.

For example, if you sell a customer a faulty product that breaks as soon as they use it, you may have broken the consumer guarantee that the product met the necessary standard of quality. In that case, you need to either repair, replace, or refund the broken product, depending on the situation.

However, until a customer purchases a product, these consumer guarantees do not apply to them. Therefore, if they break a product in-store, it becomes a matter of weighing up contextual factors in determining who is the most at fault, instead of relying on a set quality standard. If a customer failed to take due care when the product broke, they usually have to pay for the product. However, if your business contributed to the breakage somehow, the customer may not have to pay for the broken product.

When Am I Responsible?

While consumer guarantees do not apply to your products pre-purchase, the concept behind them still applies. If you are responsible for a broken product, then you are responsible for dealing with the aftermath. Therefore, if a customer broke one of your products in-store and you or your employees contributed to that breakage, you are responsible for that breakage.

For example, say that you or your employees stacked the plates in your store haphazardly or spilled something on the floor and did not clean it up. Say that a customer knocks over these plates when examining them or slips on the floor and breaks your other products. Your store contributed to that breakage through your negligence. The customer then has a reasonable basis for refusing to pay for the broken product.

If you sell fragile or easily breakable items, it is a good idea to have a sign asking customers to handle these items with care or ask staff if they want to look at them.

When Is the Customer Responsible for Broken Products?

When customers enter your store, they must exercise reasonable care when browsing your products. This will vary according to the situation but will generally mean:

  • handling fragile goods with care;
  • not interacting roughly with your products;
  • following any warnings or signage in your store;
  • keeping an eye on their children to ensure they are careful; and 
  • listening to employee directions or warnings.

If a customer is careless and damages one of your products, then you can ask for compensation for that product. This only applies as long as you did not contribute to the breakage in any way.

For example, say that a customer brings their young children into your furniture store, and the children are playing with a toy ball. The customer does not watch their children while inspecting your goods, and the children throw the ball, which breaks one of your vanity mirrors. The customer was careless, and you did not contribute to the breakage. Therefore, you can ask the customer to compensate you for the loss.

However, customers are not responsible for breakages that occur due to an event outside of their control, such as accidentally breaking a glass during a store evacuation due to a fire. 

Dealing With the Aftermath

If a breakage has occurred, calmly discuss the incident with the customer. If they caused the breakage, then you can ask them to pay for the damage. However, you cannot force them to pay you immediately. If you contributed to the breakage, acknowledge this fact and act accordingly. Try to come to an amicable agreement to handle the costs.

When a customer does not agree to pay for a broken item, or you cannot agree on who was at fault, you can take your case to the Disputes Tribunal. You will need to prove that the customer was careless and have some form of evidence. You could rely on testimony from your employees or other customers and CCTV footage.

Key Takeaways

Once a customer has purchased a product, you owe them certain consumer guarantees about the quality of that product, must provide a remedy if that product unreasonably breaks. However, these guarantees do not apply until a customer has purchased a product. When they are browsing your goods in-store and carelessly break a product, you may be able to ask them to compensate you for the loss. However, this is only if you did not contribute to the breakage. If you would like more information or help with handling shop breakages at your store, contact LegalVision’s regulatory and compliance lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the customer responsible when they break one of my products in-store?

When browsing your wares, customers need to exercise reasonable care. If a breakage happens due to their carelessness, then they are responsible for compensation.

When is a customer not responsible for a broken product in-store?

A customer is not responsible for a broken product if you or your employees did something to contribute to the breakage. For example, if you placed fragile objects right next to the door.

What are consumer guarantees?

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, consumer guarantees are promises you make to your customers about the quality of your goods and how you sell them. One guarantee is that your goods are of acceptable quality and fit for purpose. Therefore, if a customer comes to you with faulty goods soon after their purchase as new products, you may have to give them a remedy. These guarantees exist to protect consumer rights.

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