Fit for Purpose?

by Rochelle Manderson

It may seem very basic, but if you purchase an item it should be fit for the purpose it was designed for, right??? The following article continues our series on the Australian Consumer Law, and how this very simple idea is enshrined in our law so that goods that are sold must be reasonably fit for purpose … here are the last articles in this series on quality and the ACL.

Fit for any specified purpose

If a supplier sells you an item, that item must be reasonably fit for the purpose specified or disclosed by the supplier. So, what does that mean?

fit for purpose

It means if you purchase a fridge, it should keep items inside it cold. If you purchase a watch, it should tell the time. If you purchase a bicycle, you should be able to ride it from one place to another. If you purchase a mobile phone, you will be able to call your friend, message your partner, and anything else promised on the pack!

But this consumer protection goes far beyond the obvious implementation of the guarantee.

Let’s look at the example of the watch. Clearly, any watch must be able to tell the time, or it is not fit for purpose. But what happens if a person buys a watch for a specific purpose that requires the watch to be waterproof, and discloses this to the seller at the time of purchase? Not every watch can function in water, but if the seller has specified the watch purchased is suitable for the water activity you have disclosed to them, then if the watch cannot operate in that sport or water activity the seller has breached the consumer law, and the watch is not fit for the specified purpose.

Did you know that there was once a case regarding a sheepdog puppy that wouldn’t herd sheep! The purchaser specified they wanted the dog to herd the sheep, and the seller specified that the dog would herd the sheep. The Seller should have said the puppy had the potential to herd the sheep based on his breed and parents, but as a living animal it was not certain.

When a purchaser wants to purchase goods to do a specific job, including a job different from the normal purpose of the item, the purchaser must, before purchasing the goods:

• Have expressly or implicitly told the supplier what they want the item for,

• Relied on the supplier’s knowledge and expertise as to whether the item was suitable for their specified purpose, and

• It was reasonable for the purchaser to rely on this knowledge and expertise.

So when does the supplier not have to provide a remedy?

If the supplier can show that the customer did not rely on their skill and judgement when they purchased the item, or under the circumstances it was unreasonable to have relied on the supplier’s skill or judgement, then they do not have to provide a remedy.

This means, if you were purchasing that mobile phone, and you specifically said you wanted to use it to post photos on ‘Facebook’, it would be more reasonable to rely on an employee of a specialty mobile phone store than to rely on the ‘check out worker’ at the local supermarket who ‘ums and ahs’ while reading the box and clearly has no more of an idea as to the phones capabilities than you would if you had read the box it was in yourself.

For example, an individual wants to buy a guard dog, so they walk into a pet shop and point to a fluffy white Maltese mix. A fellow customer tells them that their friend had a dog that looked a bit like that and the puppy would grow up to make a great guard dog. It would not be reasonable for the purchaser to rely on that comment when choosing their ‘guard dog’.

Remember, the purchaser must disclose the purpose they want the item for at the time of the purchase, they must have relied on the supplier’s knowledge and expertise, and it must have been reasonable to rely on this knowledge and expertise.

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