Cimaal sorts it out

For many years, consumer association CIMAAL (Centro de Informação, Mediação a Arbitragem de Conflitos de Consumo do Algarve) has helped customers with problems relating to their consumer rights. As The Resident has been receiving more and more calls and e-mails from disgruntled consumers seeking advice on consumer rights issues, we have decided to launch an advice column in conjunction with CIMAAL.

Dear Miguel Sengo da Costa,

Electric Radiator

I purchased an electric radiator from a local supermarket, which burst into flames in the lounge of my home within 10 minutes of it first being used. Hot oil spilled from the device, soaking not just the tile flooring of the room, but an expensive Oriental rug. The following day I returned the burned out radiator to the store and was issued a full financial refund, with an apology from the manager. I explained the hot oil had totally ruined the Oriental rug. He advised me to write a letter of complaint to the store and demand fair compensation for a replacement.

A month after filing such a letter with the supermarket, I was contacted by a Lisbon-based insurance company. A representative of that company came to the house and after taking a number of photographs asked – through an interpreter – whether I had correctly followed the instructions detailed on the box packaging which came with the radiator. I explained I was unable to read Portuguese and for that precise reason had asked the supermarket check-out girl, who spoke English, to quickly glance at the instructions and tell me if there was anything I needed to do before putting the device to use. She had informed me there were no procedures necessary and the radiator was perfectly safe to use straightaway. Indeed, when I returned the burned-out heater to the store manager the following day, he made no reference to any possible oversight on my part, which may have caused the fire.

However, six weeks following the visit of the insurance assessor, I received a letter from his company stating my claim for compensation was being denied on the grounds that I had incorrectly followed the instructions on the radiator packaging. Seemingly, I had failed to allow the heater to stand and settle for some protracted period before plugging it in.

Please be advised, absolutely no such caution was verbally issued to me, before or after purchase. Furthermore, I am now informed that this explanation of failing to read instructions is often used by Portuguese insurance companies in rejecting claims made by foreign speaking non-nationals living in or visiting this country. There was no dispute from the store manager as to the cause of the fire. He said the device was clearly faulty. Why otherwise would he have accepted liability and returned my money if I was in any way to blame? As matters stand, I am considerably out of pocket. The cost of replacing the rug is almost 1,000 euros. Could you please advise on what options I have, if any, to redress this injustice.

Peter W. Bond

From Vila do Bispo

Your case depends on whether you used the appliance correctly, whether you followed the instructions, or if the product was faulty. However, there are two sides to your story.

1. Misuse of equipment and the duty of customer services to inform you how to use the device.

In the case of the consumer breaking the product, the question whether he or she was informed of the proper instructions, as per the legal requirement to supply information. According to the Arto. 8 no.1 of the Consumer Defence law (24/96 of July 31), the supplier of the goods or lender of services must, as part of the sales negotiation and signing of a contract, clearly inform the consumer of the goods’ characteristics, composition and price, as well as the period of validity of the contact. He must also guarantee stated periods of delivery and assistance after the legal transaction. Arto. 8 no.2 states that this obligation to inform also applies to the producer, the manufacturer, the importer, the deliverer and the packer – all of whom should inform the consumer via instructions.

As for the supply of information, we have to consider the Decree law n.o 238/86 of August 19, which states that all the information written relative to the characteristics of products, as well as the instructions, is supplied in Portuguese.

According to the law, any labels or literature accompanying goods which are sold in Portugal, are also subject to this legislation, despite the fact that not all of the consumers in Portugal understand Portuguese.

However, in this situation, the consumer must ask the salesman for the information required to use the device correctly. From the moment when the consumer requested the information, which is then given, the supplier is held fully responsible for any lack of information.

2. Device defect

According to the Arto. 12, no. 1 of the Consumer Defence law, in the case of the consumer purchasing a defective product, he has the right to a total refund of the damaged goods and compensation for any damage resulting from the goods being faulty.

•CIMAAL would be happy to intervene in the case with the insurance company to try and moderate and avoid the necessity of resorting to court, if necessary.