Lost or Stolen Goods

Who pays for undelivered goods? Consider the typical situation where you ordered goods by telephone from a mail order catalog. Or, you ordered goods from a local store. In each case, you were required to pay in advance of receiving the goods.

What happens if the goods never arrive at your house? Or if the package arrives, but one of the key items is missing? What happens when the company or store is called and they refuse to send the missing goods? You still have certain rights. If you paid by cash or check, you can write the company or store and request that they research their packing and/or inventory information to attempt to confirm delivery of the goods. If they refuse, or if they indicate that they have checked, and no such receipt confirms your purchase, request copies of this information. If they refuse, you may have to consider a lawsuit in Small Claims Court.

If you paid by credit card, you may have even more rights. When you receive your credit card bill and find the charges on the bill, you can call the store or company and request the same research. However, if you put your request in writing, you automatically initiate at least two other sets of legal rights at your disposal:

  1. Your credit card company has a dispute resolution mechanism
  2. The Federal Credit Billing Act specifies certain rights available to you

Sometimes these may be the same procedure, depending upon your credit card company. Call your credit card company immediately and request a copy of their dispute procedures. These should be followed specifically by paying close attention to the deadlines and details.

If an item is purchased on a credit card and once delivered is obviously wrong, or defective, or not what the store represented it to be, you may be able to return the item without incurring the charges. You should contact your credit card company immediately and inform them in writing of your dispute with the store [even if it has not reached the level of a dispute yet.] Then you should send the store a letter indicating the problem with the goods. Most stores will make provisions for returns.

These are things you should do after receiving the goods which are defective or not what was represented:

  1. Notify the store in writing
  2. Make arrangements for return shipping
  3. Notify the credit card company
  4. Pay all of the outstanding credit card balance other than that disputed

These are things you should not do:

  1. Ignore the problem
  2. Refuse to put your disagreement with the store in writing
  3. Forget to notify the credit card company. Also, you must

To be protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act, the act specifies a separate written billing error notice to the credit card company. There is a sixty (60) day notice requirement in the act, and you must provide written notice of the problem to the company within this sixty (60) day period. Once you have done this, you may withhold the amount in dispute, until the dispute is resolved. Be careful to pay the remaining portions of the bill that are not disputed.

If any action is taken against you during this dispute, the company or the credit card company may be in violation of the federal law. You can report them to the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. Also, you may want to check with the Consumer Rights Division of your state government to see if your state law gives you any further rights.

Sometimes, the problem is not undelivered, but rather late goods. For example, assume you received your mail-order goods after Christmas, when they were obviously intended to be goods for Christmas. Can you get a refund or a credit? The answer is tied to the notice of delivery statement contained in the catalog or the advertisement. If there is no notice, the Federal Trade Commission presumes that thirty (30) days is a reasonable period of time that you must wait for delivery of your goods. Receipt after that time, where no delivery time is specified, may enable you to a return of the goods when they arrive, and a credit or refund.

What happens if goods arrive that you never ordered? Under federal law and some state laws, you might consider these goods to be a gift. You can return them or you might keep them. Remember, though, that some companies have automatic renewal orders or on approval orders. These may not permit you to treat such goods as a gift, and you might be responsible for paying to return the goods.

Finally, what happens if a merchant loses your goods, for example, a dry cleaner? Many dry cleaners have a limitation of liability provision printed on the back of your receipt. Assume that the provision states that the dry cleaner's liability is limited to $15.00. Is the dry cleaner's liability limited to the $15.00, or do they have to refund the value of the lost article?

There are two ways to proceed in seeking a refund for the value of the lost article. First, examine the limitation of liability. The proprietor is generally required to call this limitation to your attention. Many customers do not read the reverse side of a preprinted receipt.

Second, you might attempt to determine if the dry cleaner was "grossly negligent." That is, most states will invalidate a limitation of liability if the business was grossly negligent in handling your goods. You must prove that the dry cleaner's normal handling procedures were reckless, or that its employee(s) acted with reckless disregard for your goods. This is a difficult standard of proof for a customer to meet, since the customer does not generally have access to the information needed to prove a case of "gross negligence."

These are all examples of legal matters that quite possibly could end in Small Claims Court. If a mail order company or a local business you are dealing with will not refund your money, give you new merchandise, or even address your claim, you may want to learn more about the specific steps you can take to pursue your legal rights.

For any questions, we’re here to help. Contact member services and be paired with an attorney.

Posted in: Consumer