With thousands of extra calories to fortify us, many of us are headed to the stores today to snatch Black Friday deals. As you scan the stores looking for the best deals on waffle irons and towels, you will probably also notice signs like “You Break It, You Buy It,” “All Sales Final,” and “No Refunds, No Exchanges.” Most of us follow these store policies without questioning them. But are they really enforceable?

“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 the subject of Black Friday sales. You can find more information about these very limited exceptions by visiting the State Attorney General’s website.

Happy bargain hunting. Stay clear of the brawls.

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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