On 10.11.2022, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) specified in which cases there is an obligation for online retailers to inform consumers about the existence and conditions of a warranty given by the manufacturer before concluding a purchase contract (BGH dated 10.11.2022, I ZR 241/19). According to the BGH online stores do not have to provide information about manufacturer warranties at least if the warranty is not a central feature of the product offering. With this ruling, the judges in Karlsruhe confirm the judgement of the ECJ on the same case, which is almost 6 months old.
As a refresher: the facts of the case
The dispute between two online traders concerning the sale of Victorinox pocket knives was specifically about the fact that the plaintiff was of the opinion that the defendant had not provided explicit information about the existing manufacturer’s warranty on the offer page. The information about the existing manufacturer’s warranty was only to be found under the subheading “Further technical information” in a document that could be accessed under the link “Operating instructions”. The content of the warranty notice found there read as follows:
“The warranty covers any material and manufacturing defect for an unlimited period of time (two years for electronics). Damage caused by normal wear and tear or improper use is not covered by the warranty.”
The course of the proceedings
The plaintiff failed before the Regional Court (Landgericht) and went to the Higher Administrative Court (Oberverwaltungsgericht), which upheld the action. Upon the defendant’s appeal, the BGH stayed the proceedings by order on 11.2.2021 and referred the question to the ECJ for interpretation. The ECJ ruled on the issue in its judgment of 5.5.2022, C-179/21. You can read our article on the ECJ ruling again here.
The judgement of the BGH
The BGH has now overturned the judgement of the Higher Administrative Court and restored the judgement of the Regional Court dismissing the action. In doing so, the BGH has followed the legal opinion of the ECJ.
The BGH essentially states the following in its reasoning:
By the way in which the defendant had designed the promotion page, it did not withhold from the consumers any information about the manufacturer’s warranty to be provided prior to the conclusion of the contract pursuant to § 312d para. 1 sentence 1 BGB, Art. 246a § 1 para. 1 sentence 1 no. 12 EGBGB. Therefore, it did not act unfairly pursuant to § 5a para. 1, 5b para. 4 UWG. The concrete design of the offer page did not make the manufacturer’s warranty an essential feature of the defendant’s offer. Since the duty to provide information prior to the conclusion of the purchase contract only exists in cases where the warranty is a “central or decisive feature” of the offer and is thus used as a selling point by the online trader, it does not exist in the present case. The BGH also ruled that the defendant had not committed an unfair act under Section 3a UWG, as there was no breach of the market conduct provision of Section 479(1) BGB.
Consequences for practice
With this ruling, the BGH confirms the clarity created by the ECJ ruling for online traders selling products with a commercial guarantee and thus gives online traders two options for action:
- If online traders use existing manufacturer’s guarantees as advertising for a product, they are also obliged to inform consumers comprehensively about the existence, scope and conditions of the guarantee. Even a reference to the manufacturer’s warranty on the offer page is sufficient to establish a corresponding advertising intention and thus the duty to inform. In these cases, online traders should be very familiar with the details of the respective warranties, as incorrect or incomplete information can lead to costly warnings.
- If online traders do not have sufficient information on existing manufacturer guarantees, they now have the legally secure option of not informing consumers about the existence of the guarantees. This is because the comprehensive information obligations are not substantiated unless the guarantee is advertised on the offer page. If the guarantee is not mentioned, the duty to inform does not apply either. In these cases, online traders are not at risk of receiving a letter of caution.