We recently did a day trip to Waco to check out Magnolia Market (the store owned by HGTV superstars Chip and Joanna Gaines). I must have been too busy checking out the #Shiplap because I failed to notice my four year old was “picking flowers” in the fake flower displays as we walked around. As I gathered up the damaged flowers to pay for them, a store employee magically appeared, made a nice little bouquet for Claire, and said, “Please don’t worry. This happens all of the time. Here’s some flowers for your sweet little girl. Enjoy your day!” And no, it wasn’t Joanna (or anyone who looked like Joanna).

If you are in a store other than Magnolia Market and your four year old decides to “pick flowers,” how enforceable is the “you break it, you buy it” policy? Or “no refunds, no exchanges”?

“You Break It, You Buy It”

This store policy is also known as the “Pottery Barn Rule.”  It was coined by either New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman or Secretary of State Colin Powell, depending on who you ask. Seriously. I am guessing neither one of these gentlemen has ever actually shopped at a Pottery Barn because the store does not have a “you break it, you buy it” policy, but instead writes off broken merchandise.

Back to the question at hand. If a store posts a “you break it, you buy it” sign, are you legally obligated to buy something because you accidentally broke it?

The short answer is no, the sign by itself doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy an item you accidentally break. Whether or not you are liable to the store depends on the circumstances of the breakage.

If you accidentally break something in a store, the question of whether and how much you owe the store will be determined by the negligence law. Basically, did you act carelessly in a situation where the law assumed you had a duty to act carefully?

If you encourage your wild three year old to run around swinging a baseball bat in the proverbial china shop, you are probably violating your duty of care, and if a teapot breaks, a court would probably hold you liable for damages.  Unless the item was rare or irreplaceable, you are likely responsible for paying the wholesale price and not the retail price.

Practically speaking, bringing a lawsuit against a customer is usually not worth the potential recovery for a store. So rest easy, a lawyer is not going to spring out from behind the counter to serve you with a lawsuit if you break something in a store. But unless you want to have a lively debate with a store owner regarding the enforceability of their “you break it, you buy it” sign, be careful in stores and keep a firm hand on your three year old.

“No Refunds, No Exchanges”

There is no law that requires a store owner to give refunds or permit exchanges, but several states require that the customer be notified of a “no refund, no exchange” policy.

In Texas, there is no law requiring customers to be notified of a “no refund, no exchange” policy.  There is also no right to cancel contracts or purchase agreements. Whether you can receive a refund is dependent on the retailer’s return and refund policies.

There is, in Texas, however, a very limited three-day right to cancel certain sales made at places other than the seller’s main place of business. None of these very limited exceptions are typically applicable. You can find more information about these very limited exceptions by visiting the State Attorney General’s website.

Happy bargain hunting.

Have you or any of your children ever broken something valuable in a store? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

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