Buyer beware: fine print is required reading
CENTREVILLE — A case brought before the District Court of Maryland, Queen Anne’s County, lends the reminder to “read the fine print.” Judge Frank M. Kratovil Jr. heard on Jan. 10 testimony for a breach of contract in small claims court.
In this case, the plaintiff, Judge Peter Wolf of Queenstown, believed he had been mislead and received misrepresentation from heating and air installers, Ocean Air Heating and Cooling of Stevensville and the Carrier Corporation of Baltimore.
Wolf described he had a Carrier brand HVAC unit installed by Ocean Air in 2010, in May 2016 the unit began having problems and he contacted the ser vice department at Ocean Air. He stated that coolant was added, but within about a month the unit began again having problems. When the technician returned, Wolf said he was told the outer coil was broken and given an estimate to repair the unit.
Wolf gave testimony that the technician from Ocean Air said the broken coil was likely a factory defect and would need to be replaced. The estimate Wolf received was for $3,281, and Wolf reportedly paid $5,160 for the original unit.
Through the course of Wolf’s discussion with Ocean Air he was told that the 5-year warranty had elapsed, and he was not covered by the 10-year warranty because he had failed to register his product at the time of purchase. Wolf’s complaint was “registering the equipment should have no basis to determine the durability of the equipment.” Wolf also pointed out that this type of warranty — products requiring registration — is legislatively banned in other states. He further alleged, no verbal disclosure regarding the warranty, maintenance and service, or product registration was given to either him or his wife at the time of purchase and installation. Merely, he said, they were handed over a packet of papers, some 20 or 30 pages.
Wolf also told the court that another Ocean Air employee had told his wife they “had gotten a lemon,” meaning a product that was just generally defective.
The attorneys for Carrier and Ocean Air, Cynthia Weisz of Bonner, Kiernan, Trebach and Crociata and Sean Poltrack of Braden, Thompson, Poltrach and Mundy, responded to the court that even though the terms of the warranty had not been expressed verbally, they were no less expressly implied in writing, citing the literature given to and retained by the plaintiff.
“Coastal locations require additional maintenance ... take additional care to consult the proper cleaning schedule ... the outer coil should be washed every three months,” read the defense from the product manual.
The defense also exhibited the color sales sheet that was used to sell the Wolf family their heat pump. The defense noted the extended warranty information was indeed listed in the small print, directing purchasers to Carrier.com for product registration.
However, as testified by Tom Windmiller, Carrier technical service manager for the MidAtlantic Region, an extended warranty would not have covered the outer coil regardless, because there was no record of quarterly maintenance to the coil. Carrier identifies the area of Queenstown were Wolf resides as a coastal location and therefore subject to maintenance every three months, said Windmiller.
After hearing lengthy testimony, Kratovil said although the court is sympathetic to the plaintiff, judgement after trial was decided in favor of both defendants, Carrier and Ocean Air.