Online-purchased ventilator not subject to 7-day unconditional policy due to product damage
The plaintiff surnamed He bought a noninvasive ventilator from an online store owned by the defendant company. After acknowledging receipt of the product from the express delivery, He tried the product and decided that he didn't like it. So, he started communicating with the service staff to return it under the 7-day unconditional return policy. Due to the design of the ventilator, any test use of the product would consume parts such as the nose and mouth mask and the tubes -- consumables that are not returnable. The service staff made that clear to the plaintiff saying the expense on the consumables will be deducted from the refund. They also told the plaintiff to clear out the water in the product before shipping it back to the company.
When checking the returned product upon delivery, the defendant found the package already had obvious water marks. After opening the package, severe water leaking which had damaged the product was found. Believing the damage was caused by the plaintiff’s failure to clear out the water in the product before shipping it back, which would impact the resale of the product, the defendant refused to accept the package, and refused to refund the purchase price of 3,489 yuan ($509.66) to the plaintiff. The plaintiff thus sued the defendant at the Beijing Internet Court (BIC).
Focus of the dispute:
Could the defendant refuse the plaintiff's request of returning the product under the 7-day unconditional return policy when the plaintiff failed to fulfill the duty of care, causing damage to the product?
After trial, the BIC concluded that:
The two sides communicated and reached an agreement over returning the product under the 7-day unconditional policy. The plaintiff returned the product within the required time frame. According to the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests, goods returned by consumers should remain intact. Before agreeing to the plaintiff’s request of returning the product, the defendant had specifically informed the plaintiff of matters needing attention multiple times. But as the plaintiff had not dealt with those matters the returned product was exempt from the relevant legal provisions. Therefore, the defendant’s refusal to refund the price of the product on the grounds of "product being damaged by water leaking and its resale would be impacted", was appropriate.
According to Article 512 of the Civil Code, "where the object of an electronic contract concluded through internet or other information network is the delivery of goods and the goods are to be delivered by express delivery services, the time of delivery is the time of acknowledging receipt of the goods by the recipient". In this case, the defendant fulfilled its delivery obligation. The plaintiff acknowledged that there was no quality issue of the product after he tried it. He just did not like the trial experience of the product. Therefore, it should be assumed that the product was intact and unused when it was delivered to the plaintiff. The plaintiff could not reasonably explain the actual state of the product when he gave it to the courier for shipping. And according to evidence submitted by the defendant, it was obvious that the product was not in an intact condition and would impact its resale. Therefore, the BIC did not support the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant should perform the obligation to refund the product in accordance with the 7-day unconditional policy.
Tips from the judge:
Judge Feng Yu from the Beijing Internet Court. [Photo/ Beijing Internet Court]
Although online shopping is becoming an indispensable part of modern life, it has the major disadvantage of an absence of direct contact with the goods, compared with traditional shopping. To solve the problem, China's Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests entitles consumers to return goods within seven days upon receipt unconditionally, which to a certain degree reduces the risks of online transactions and protects the online businesses. But that right cannot be exercised under all circumstances. The law is based on fairness and balanced interests. It protects the consumers, and sets limits as well. Some goods, due to their nature or the conditions when they are returned (if they are damaged), are not subject to the seven-day unconditional policy.