Advanced Topics in Warranty Law:

A product is sold with printed warranties in three different languages. The consumer reads and understands each of them. The different languages offer different warranty terms. Which warranty controls?

Factual background: Last week, Denver University law students organized a firearms safety field trip to Cherry Creek State Park. The day before, students were taught firearms safety by Colorado lawyer Anthony Fabian. At the state park, the students could rent firearms and buy ammunition, and practice responsible firearms use. The DU Law Republicans paid most of the costs for the rentals and ammunition. Several dozen students attended the event at Cherry Creek, and I joined them. At the event, I purchased (well, actually I obtained for free, thanks to the generous DU Law Republicans), a box of ammunition. The box was the least expensive .45 caliber ammunition that was available. It was manufactured by Aguila, a Mexican company. (Ironically, Mexican citizens are generally forbidden from possessing .45 handgun ammunition.)

Being an attorney, I of course carefully read the warranty on the box. The Spanish warranty states: "Garantizamos que fue fabricado con esmero." [We guarantee that it was made with great care.] In French: "Nous garantissons que ce produit a ete fabrique avec the plus grand soin." [We guarantee that this product has been made with the greatest care.] (Note for linguists: the box's printed text does not include accent marks in any language.) In English: "We guarantee the exercise of reasonable care in the manufacture."

So we have three different levels of guarantee: greatest care (French), great care (Spanish), and reasonable care (English). If there were a product liability case in which the particular standard made a difference, which one would control?

After the guarantee, there is a disclaimer. In Spanish: "pero no asumimos responsabilidad alguna." [But we assume no other responsibility.] In English: "but assume no further responsibility." In French: "Nous nous dechargeons du toute responsibilite en cas utislation non-conforme."[We disclaim all responsibility in case of non-conforming usage.]

So the Spanish and English disclaimers are the same, and they disclaim all responsibility beyond some degree of care in manufacture. In contrast, the French disclaimer appears to be much narrower, and disclaims responsibility only for non-conforming uses. Other text on the box provides various safety rules (e.g., "Only use guns in good conditions. Treat every gun as if it was loaded.") But these rules too differ among the languages. In English: "Keep gun pointed in a safe direction." In French, "Ne jamais pointer l'arme en direction d'une personne." [Never point the arm in the direction of a person.] The English language version is better stated, since sometimes pointing the gun at a person (who is a violent attacker) is proper gun safety, and since there can be unsafe pointing even when not pointing at a person (e.g., shooting at a paper target without being sure that the backstop is safe).

So, if there is a product liability case, does the near-total English/Spanish disclaimer apply? Or the much narrower French disclaimer, which appears to discharge liability only for violations of the safety rules? Can a plaintiff pick and choose languages--such as relying on the narrow French disclaimer, but then citing the English version of a safety rule to determine what is a non-conforming use?