The Disputes Tribunal has awarded a couple $1620 compensation after finding a leather lounge suite wasn't of acceptable quality.

Regan Hawkins bought a leather lounge suite for $3360 in 2006. This year the Disputes Tribunal awarded him and his wife $1620 compensation after finding the suite wasn't of acceptable quality.

The couple bought the suite from Auckland store Corniche Interiors. It was marked down from $5000 and they thought they'd got a good deal. But the leather used to cover the suite was bi-cast leather, a composite material usually made of polyurethane that’s been applied to an inferior section of animal hide. It looks like real leather but it doesn’t always wear like it.

The first signs the bi-cast leather on their suite was starting to deteriorate appeared after two years. But at that time the couple didn't realise what was happening. By this year, the leather was peeling off in places and there were tears at points where it was stitched together, Regan said.

Durability test

Our consumer adviser Maggie Edwards recommended the couple go back to Corniche Interiors about the problem: "The Consumer Guarantees Act requires goods to be durable. In this case, the evidence indicated the bi-cast leather had failed the durability test."

When they were unable to resolve matters with the store, the couple lodged a claim with the Disputes Tribunal. The tribunal referee agreed the lounge suite wasn't of acceptable quality and should have lasted longer than the five-and-a-half years the couple had owned it. While bi-cast leather may not be of the same quality as real leather, the referee said it was still expected to be "durable and free from defects".

Corniche Interiors told the tribunal it used high-quality bi-cast leather and was careful in its selection of manufacturers, although it estimated the life of a bi-cast sofa to be just six to seven years. The referee accepted Regan’s view that the suite should have lasted at least 10 years.

The referee considered the couple had lost their right to reject the goods and claim a refund because too much time had elapsed since they first became aware of the problem. But she found they were still entitled to compensation for the loss in value of the suite. The referee calculated this value as $1620, based on the loss of use for four-and-a-half years of the suite's estimated 10-year life.

Legal points

Where a good is faulty and can't be fixed or where the fault is major, the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) gives you the right to reject it and claim a refund or replacement. However, you can lose this right if you don’t use it within a reasonable time.

The CGA also gives you the right to keep the goods and claim damages for “any reduction in value of the goods below the price paid”.

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