The German Federal Supreme Court has ruled that Internet retailers do not have to inform consumers in more detail about the manufacturer’s warranty for an offered product if the warranty is not a central feature of their offer.
Both parties to the lawsuit sell pocket knives in online trade. The defendant offered a Swiss Army Knife on Amazon. The offer page contained a link under the subheading “Further technical information” with the designation “Operating instructions”. After clicking on this link, a product information sheet opened, which contained the following reference to a manufacturer’s warranty: “The warranty covers any defect in material and workmanship for an unlimited period of time (two years for electronics). Damage resulting from normal wear and tear or improper use is not covered by the warranty.”
The product information sheet did not contain any further information on the guarantee.
The plaintiff considered this to be a violation of the legal information requirements regarding guarantees. It requested that the defendant be prohibited from advertising the sale of pocket knives to consumers with references to warranties without indicating the consumer’s statutory rights and that they are not limited by the warranty, and without indicating the territorial scope of the warranty protection.
The landgericht dismissed the action. However, on appeal by the plaintiff, the Higher Regional Court ruled in favor of the defendant. In its appeal, which was allowed by the Higher Regional Court, the defendant then pursued its motion to dismiss the action.
By order of February 11, 2021, the Federal Court of Justice stayed the proceedings and referred questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union on the interpretation of Art. 6 par. 1(m) of Directive 2011/83/EU on consumer rights for a preliminary ruling (see Press Release No. 31/2021 of February 11, 2021).
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on the issues by judgment of May 5, 2022 (C-179/21).
The Federal Court of Justice therefore reversed the judgment of the Higher Regional Court on appeal by the defendant and restored the judgment of the Regional Court dismissing the action. The defendant did not behave unfairly because it did not provide any more detailed information on the manufacturer’s warranty mentioned in the linked product information sheet in its Internet offer.
The defendant had not complied with § 5a para. 2 and 4 UWG aF (now § 5a para. 1, § 5b para. 4 UWG nF), because they do not provide the consumers with any information according to § 312d para. 1 sentence 1 BGB, Art. 246a § 1 para. 1 sentence 1 no. 9 EGBGB aF (now Art. 246a § 1 para. 1 sentence 1 no. 12 EGBGB nF) withheld information about the manufacturer’s warranty to be provided prior to the conclusion of the contract. This results from an interpretation of the aforementioned provisions in conformity with the Directive, which is necessary for the implementation of Art. 6 para. 1 letter m of the Directive 2011/83/EU.
Following a referral from the German Federal Court of Justice, the ECJ has ruled that a trader must inform consumers about the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty before concluding a sales contract if he makes the warranty a central or decisive feature of his offer and thus uses it as a selling point. If, on the other hand, he mentions the manufacturer’s warranty only in passing, so that it does not constitute an argument for purchase from the consumer’s point of view, he does not have to provide any information about the warranty.
In the dispute, the manufacturer’s warranty was not an essential feature of the defendant’s offer. It is not mentioned on the offer page itself, but is found in a subordinate position in a product information sheet. The consumer only gets to this product information sheet by clicking on a link that is under the subheading “Further technical information” and is labeled “Operating instructions” and therefore tends to indicate a technical-functional explanation.
The defendant, in the absence of a violation of the market conduct provision of § 479 para. 1 BGB also did not commit an unfair act pursuant to Section 3a UWG. The provisions of § 479 para. The obligation to provide information on the subject matter and content of a (manufacturer’s) warranty, which is standardized in Section 1 of the German Civil Code (BGB), only comes into effect when the entrepreneur makes a binding offer to the consumer to conclude a warranty contract. In the case in dispute, the link on the offer page to the product information sheet with the manufacturer’s warranty did not yet contain a binding warranty promise.