Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Different or unique requirements or terms

In another forum someone mentioned that a customer was asking for “unrestricted” warranties be provided them for equipment suppliers that were used by a contractor. Anytime someone asks for a term that is unique or different you should always take the time to understand what the term means and what the impact would be. When there are three parties to the equation and you are standing in the middle, you also need to consider what you are getting from the supplier versus what you are committing to the customer as any difference in those commitments become your responsibility.

I've never heard of an un-conditional warranty and my feeling is a contractor would be crazy to agree to it as manufacturers always include conditions on their warranties. Those conditions are restrictions. For example, they will always include a time limit during which their obligation to repair or replace the product at no cost will end. The reason for that is simple, the vast majority of product will not last forever and failures will occur over time and usage. The longer the usage, the higher the statistical probability the item will fail. Products are also designed to work within defined operating tolerances, so if a customer uses the product outside those operating tolerances they may either cause the product to fail or they may be accelerating wear to the product that will cause a pre-mature failure. In addition to tolerances most suppliers want to make sure that they will not be responsible for providing warranty replacement if the customer abuses, mis-uses, fails to maintain or service the product, or has performed unauthorized modifications or repairs to the product as all of those can cause the product to fail or wear out pre-maturely.

If a contractor agreed to an unrestricted warranty, they would be assuming all the risks of any difference between what they get from the supplier / manufacturer versus that unconditional commitment. The more common practices are to either simply pass through whatever warranty the manufacturer provides. An alternative is the customer needs to specify the specific warranty they require so the contractor can try to get those from the suppliers. If they can’t, the contractor has several options. One is they can seek to limit liability for those suppliers to only what they can recover from them. The second option would be to determine the risk of any difference and include a contingency for those risks into their contract price. The third option would be to walk away if you simply couldn’t manage the potential risk and costs.

Always take the time to understand what any unique or different term means and the impact it would have. Don’t just read the words, always put it into perspective with different examples as that will help identify if it works or doesn’t or whether it works in all situations. Don’t assume you know the answer.

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