Ask LH: Can I Sign Away My Warranty Rights?

Hey Lifehacker, Recently I had a long-running warranty dispute with an electronics manufacturer. They "repaired" the item in question a few times but I was still having issues. In arranging a replacement, I had to sign and agree to not discuss the terms of the warranty with anyone but a lawyer. The provider claimed "neither party is responsible, but we are replacing the product to avoid ongoing dispute" in the paperwork.

Is this legal? I thought as a consumer you had every right to say what you like about a company if they did something wrong. Any advice?

Thanks Concerned Consumer

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Dear CC,

Under Australian consumer law, if a product has major continuing defects you're entitled to insist on a replacement or a refund. For minor faults, the provider is entitled to offer a repair, but continuing problems suggest a replacement is the appropriate remedy.

Under those circumstances, you shouldn't have to sign any special agreement in order to receive your rights. If a company suggested that, I would be heading straight to the relevant consumer affairs department in my state to resolve the issue.

The problem in this case is that you have already signed the agreement, which does mean for practical purposes you're bound by its terms. Chances are the organisation has better and more expensive lawyers than you, so if you do start badmouthing them online, the consequences might be unpleasant. The lesson? Don't sign such an agreement in the first place (and don't buy from that company ever again). Consumer rights aren't contingent on staying silent.

A side note: your right to highlight consumer issues online isn't limitless. In theory at least, defamation laws apply online as well — though tracking down anonymous posters is time-consuming, expensive and can often lead to the Streisand effect, where attempts to shut down discussion of an issue only end up making it more prominent.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    The agreement would not be enforceable as it seems to have been signed under duress.

    They need to comply with the Australian Consumer Law, simple as that.
    You can't sign away your consumer right as the legislation will always prevail regardless of the agreement you have with the seller of the good, assuming you're a retail customer and not a business.

    Last edited 23/10/14 9:08 am

    I'd like to know who this company is so I can potentially avoid buying anything from them in the future.

    There is something in the law that states they are not allowed to mislead you about your rights. Sounds like it falls under that if they forced you to sign away your rights.

    Just to add to the above comments, in no circumstance can you contract outside of the law.

    Is it libel if you can prove it?

    Still, it would be expensive to argue things in court.

      I believe truth is a defence to defamation, but as you say you'd wind up broke before getting a chance to make the argument. (re truth defence: http://www.thenewsmanual.net/Resources/medialaw_in_australia_02.html)

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