Under which legal terms does a business have to stand behind an agreement made by an employee to a customer regarding the return of an item?

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Under which legal terms does a business have to stand behind an agreement made by an employee to a customer regarding the return of an item?

I purchased an expensive handbag. I found it was defective after purchasing it and examining it. I had a verbal agreement with the leather goods manager that my purse would be exchanged for a new one. At the time, she did not have that particular handbag in stock; she told me she’d call as soon as she received one. I waited and did not hear from her, so I went into the store and found out there was a new manager. I spoke to her about my agreement with the previous leather goods manager, and she said she would not stand behind what the previous manager said. What are my options?

Asked on March 12, 2012 under General Practice, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Legally, the store would be obligated to stand behind its previous manager's agreement:

1) An oral agreement (sometimes incorrectly called a verbal agreement) is enforceable;

2) The store manager would almost certainly have had actual authority to bind the store in this regard; and

3) Even if somehow the manager lacked actual authority, she would have had "apparent authority"--i.e. to a reasonable outsider, she would have had the authority to do this--which can itself be sufficient to bind the store.

Once she has obligated the store, the fact that she later is transferred,  fired, quits, etc. has no bearing on the enforceability of the agreement she entered into.

In addition, if the product was defective, then the store would have to accept it back anyway, unleess you had specifically accepted the bag "as is"--merchants cannot sell you defective or nonconforming merchandise, then keep your money and refuse to exchange the item.

Of course if the store will not voluntarily honor it's obligations, you'd have to sue them to get them to do so, which may or may not be worthwhile.

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