Will my client hold me liable for poor printing?

Freelancer’s Question: I'm a freelance illustrator, graphic and web designer who recently did some work for a vocational dance college. Included in their order, was a request for some T-shirt designs, which I had to get printed after creating the designs. At the last- minute, the college asked for some more designs and, crucially, also asked me to produce a pamphlet for their summer showcase. Again, the order was to design and print the work required. As the company I used to print the shirts is also a print shop, I asked the shop if they could do this too and they agreed.

The shirts have come out fine but the quality of the pamphlets is shockingly poor, and is not up to any kind of professional standard. This is the first time I've had quality issues with any printer. I’m now concerned about my position, legally, and wonder if the work will negatively reflect on me and my business. Could I even face a liability from my customer for the print shop’s shoddy production? I haven't paid for the pamphlets yet, and I have even had to approach (and pay) another printer, who is doing the pamphlets to the proper standard. What would a legal expert advise me regarding my concerns?

Expert’s Answer: From what you have said, it is clear that you placed a contract with the printers to print some t-shirts and pamphlets. The t-shirts are fine but the quality of the pamphlets is “shockingly poor, not up to any kind of professional standard”.

Section 14(2) of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 says that any goods sold in the course of a business must be of “satisfactory quality”.

Often there is a dispute over whether the quality was so bad as to be unsatisfactory. A good test is to consider whether the pamphlets were so bad that no reasonable printer would have produced them. If that is the case, then they will be unsatisfactory in law and the printers will be in breach of contract.

As you have had the pamphlets printed by another printer , you would be entitled to deduct the new printer’s charges from what you had agreed with the original printer and just pay them the balance. You should explain why in writing: that the pamphlets were of terrible quality that no reasonable printer would have produced and why you went to new printers rather than give them the chance to correct their work, e.g. that you went to new printers as you had to produce good quality pamphlets quickly for your own customer.

It would also help if you asked your new printer to comment in writing (on their letter-heading) on the quality of the work produced by the original printers and whether they believe that they were of such bad quality that no reasonable printer would have produced them. Also, keep copies of the original work as evidence.

The expert was Gary Cousins, solicitor and co-founder at Cousins Business Law.



26th September 2011

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