Seller Beware: Garage Sale Liability

Julanne Hohbach

You’re a parent. In all likelihood, that means you have a basement filled with baby gear, not to mention outgrown infant and kids clothes and toys, that you no longer need. You could donate the whole lot and claim it on your taxes. But you’d rather try to get some cash, so you opt for a garage sale.

Before you make a sign or post the event on social media, though, there are a few things to consider. While it’s not common, selling used items at a yard sale or online can expose you to potential liability.

Attorney Rob Miller, a partner at the law firm of Rourke & Blumenthal, suggests consulting the website of the Consumer Product Safety Commission whenever you’re thinking about selling children’s items. “The general rule is going to be if you’re doing a private transaction, whether it’s a yard sale or a Craigslist or whatever, liability would not attach to that situation. It’s buyer beware.”

However, he says, there are exceptions. One is if you know there’s something wrong with an item you’re trying to sell. “Don’t sell something that you know could be dangerous,” Miller says. “You should just 86 that."

Miller, who’s also chair of the product liability section of the Ohio Association for Justice as well as an author, says it’s important not to sell items that have been recalled. In fact, it’s actually illegal. The CPSC publishes the “Resellers Guide to Selling Safer Products” online. It reviews rules that took effect as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008; these apply to resale shops as well as consumers hosting garage sales. In addition to making it illegal to sell recalled items, the legislation also banned the sale of most cribs made before June 2011.

Consumers can check product recalls at Selling a recalled product may expose you to legal risk, if a buyer purchases it and an injury occurs. “Liability can follow the seller,” Miller says.

Even though some items aren’t illegal to sell, safety gear such as bike helmets can be a risky proposition. “I would caution against selling those,” Miller says. “I [also] would look out for cribs and high chairs.”

Still, he says, even in a litigious society, the chance of running into a problem is low. More concerning, he says, is the risk of someone tripping or slipping and falling on your property, whether it’s on a hole in the yard or driveway or on merchandise. “When you have a garage sale, you have a bunch of junk lying around,” he says. Legal trouble would “probably be more likely on a premises liability scenario than a product scenario.”


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