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Attanasio v. Austin Roberts Jewelers

A-2861-07T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

CONTRACTS — Even if a seller does not fully disclose the composition of the product being sold, if the product is later damaged by the consumer’s abuse, the consumer will not be entitled to damages if that abuse would have damaged the product regardless of whether the consumer knew exactly of the materials that composed the product and which were damaged.

A man bought jewelry as a gift for his wife. He subsequently returned the jewelry to the store and demanded a refund, claiming the stones had “lost their color.” The store refused to give a refund claiming that the piece had been “abused.” The husband sued the jewelry store and sought a refund of the purchase price. He denied that the jewelry had been abused.

The lower court ruled in favor of the buyer. In reaching its decision, it had difficulty in determining how much an ordinary reasonable consumer of jewelry knows, or should know, about precious stones. The buyer thought the stone was a genuine sapphire. What he got was a treated stone whose color could be lost through wear and cleaning. It held that the receipt that the husband received from the jeweler did not specifically describe what the husband was purchasing. The Court believed that this was the case of a knowledgeable jeweler selling to an unknowledgeable consumer. It found that the jeweler failed to explain to the husband what type of jewelry he was buying or how to care for it. Therefore, it awarded damages to the husband.

The Appellate Division reversed. The Court held that, notwithstanding the deferential standard ordinarily given to the factual findings and legal conclusions of a lower court, in this case, these findings and conclusions were manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the evidence of before the lower court. Having accepted the jeweler’s expert evidence that the bracelet had been abused by exposure to some abrasive substance by the husband, and having found that the consumer’s “common sense” should have prevented such an occurrence, the Court found that the lower court’s conclusion that the jeweler was liable for damage based upon its failure to inform the buyer on how to handle the bracelet was so insupportable as to result in a denial of justice.

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