What Can You Do if You Were Sold a Defective Product in Singapore?
There may be times when you purchase products from shops which turn out to be defective. In such instances, you may want to seek relief, depending on the value of the product concerned.
This article sets out the various causes of action that you may rely on, as well as the avenues through which you can seek relief.
Causes of Action
Breach of Contract
To establish that there has been a breach of contract, you would first have to show that a contract has been formed between you and the seller.
A receipt of the purchase would likely suffice in showing the existence of such a contract. However, it doesn’t matter if you didn’t receive a receipt. This is because a contract need not necessarily be in writing. An oral agreement between two parties can also constitute a contract.
- The product does not correspond with the description of it (if you were provided a description of the product when it was being offered for sale); and/or
- The product is not of satisfactory quality, considering its description, price, appearance and finish, freedom from minor defects, safety, durability and whether it is fit for use.
Upon establishing a breach of the contract, you may then go on to claim compensation from the seller (more on this below).
Breach of Provisions Under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act
Where the product fails to conform to the contract between you and the seller at the time of delivery, you may assert that the product was “defective” as defined under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) (commonly known as the lemon law), and so you are entitled to the remedies under the CPFTA.
Consequently, you can bring the defective product back to the seller to request that it replace or repair the product at its own cost. Should the seller fail to do so within a reasonable period of time, or if the repair or replacement of the product would be disproportionate in cost, you may request for a reduction in price or a refund of the defective product.
You may mount a claim of misrepresentation if the seller made a false statement of fact that induced you to purchase the product.
The statement made could be express in nature (e.g. an oral representation made by the sales staff or a sign displayed in the store) or implied (e.g. silence by the sales staff when you enquire if there are any issues with the product).
Where misrepresentation can be established, you are entitled to rescind (i.e. unwind) the contract. Practically speaking, this will likely translate you returning the defective product and receiving a refund of the purchase price.
In addition, if the misrepresentation by the seller was fraudulent or negligent in nature, you may claim damages that will put you in the position that you would have been had the representation not been made.
For instance, you may claim for any personal injury or property damage resulting from the defective product, as well as any consequential costs incurred to remedy the defect and/or to claim compensation.
Further, even if the misrepresentation was innocently made, the court may grant damages in your favour instead of rescission of the contract, especially in cases where the misrepresentation was on a trivial issue and damages would adequately compensate you.
If you have suffered personal injury or property damage as a result of using the defective product, you may consider claiming under the tort of negligence if you can show that:
- The seller owes you a duty of care to sell products that are safe for use;
- The seller breached this duty of care; and
- The breach caused you to suffer damage, be it property damage or personal injury.
Things to Note
First, while you may be able to rely on more than one of the causes of action discussed above to claim relief against the seller, there can be no double-counting in relation to the remedies sought.
For instance, if you claimed for, and have been awarded, damages for personal injuries arising from the negligent misrepresentation made by the seller, you will not be able to claim damages for the same injuries under the tort of negligence.
Next, the various causes of action have to be initiated within the respective time periods stated in the Limitation Act. For instance, if you are claiming compensation on the ground of breach of contract, you must bring your action within 6 years from the date of breach of the term(s) in the contract. If you fail to do so, your claim will expire and can no longer be brought against the seller.
Avenues For Seeking Relief
Sue the Seller in Court
You may consider suing the seller for compensation in one of the following courts:
|Name of Tribunal/Court||Value of Claim|
|Small Claims Tribunals (SCT)||Does not exceed $20,000 (or $30,000 if both you and the seller agree to raise the claim limit)|
|Magistrate’s Court||Does not exceed $60,000|
|District Court||Does not exceed $250,000|
|General Division of the High Court||Exceeds $250,000|
It is advisable to select the option that corresponds with the value of your claim. For instance, if you are claiming $50,000 in damages, you should seek redress through the Magistrate’s Court.
Should you decide to file a claim with the SCT, note that you will have to appear at the tribunal hearing in person. This is because lawyers are prohibited from representing parties there. You may read more about filing a claim with the SCT in our other article.
Conversely, should you select any other court option, you may consider hiring a lawyer to assist with the preparation of the case, since it may involve the crafting of legal arguments. However, you will have to consider whether the value of your claim is large enough to justify incurring legal fees for.
Lodge a Complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore
You may lodge a complaint against the seller with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), a non-governmental organisation which advocates fair and ethical trade practices. If you do so, the complaint should be supported by documents concerning the dispute, such as the receipt and any written agreement between you and the seller.
Subsequently, CASE will evaluate your situation and advise on the different ways to resolve your dispute. CASE offers 2 forms of assistance – the assisted scheme and the filed scheme. You have the option to select either scheme for resolution of your dispute.
CASE’s assisted scheme
For the assisted scheme, CASE will prepare a letter to the seller on your behalf. This letter will include the details of the case, as well as your desired outcome.
You have the responsibility to deliver the letter to the seller and negotiate for an amicable settlement with the help of the letter.
CASE’s filed scheme
For the filed scheme, CASE will personally engage the seller and negotiate for an amicable settlement. You will have to become a CASE member to establish a relationship between the association and yourself, so as to allow CASE to represent you to follow up on the dispute.
Cases that are not resolved through this representation can be escalated to the CASE Mediation Centre, or alternatives such as the SCT.
Report the Product to Enterprise Singapore
You may have purchased a consumer product for personal use (e.g. DIY products and sports products), before subsequently suspecting that the product is defective and hence unsafe.
If this consumer product is within the purview of the Consumer Protection (Consumer Goods Safety Requirements) Regulations (CGSR), you should report it to Enterprise Singapore, a regulatory agency tasked with ensuring the safety of general consumer products in Singapore.
For more information on whether a particular consumer product falls within the CGSR’s scope, see here.
To report a defective consumer product to Enterprise Singapore, fill in and submit the incident report form which can be found in Appendix G of the CGSR Information Booklet. Enterprise Singapore will then investigate the matter and will need you to provide details such as when and where you purchased the product.
If Enterprise Singapore determines that the product is unsafe, it will inform the seller and the public of this and instruct the seller to stop selling it. Enterprise Singapore may also require the seller to inform the public of the possible hazards arising from the use of the product.
Sellers who continue to sell unsafe products after Enterprise Singapore has issued public notices on the dangers of such products can be fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months. Repeat offenders face fines of up to $10,000 and/or jail terms of up to 2 years.
As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure. You should inspect a product before purchasing it, since doing so will alert you to the presence of external defects. You will then be able to make an informed decision on whether to go ahead with the purchase.
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