What you need to know when you are shopping and break some stock, including what you are responsible for.

You may have to pay for any damage you cause

When you enter a shop, you must take reasonable care not to damage whatever products you are handling. Otherwise, you may have to pay for damage you cause.

You should supervise your children in a shop because if they break something, the shop can ask you to pay for the damaged stock, although you may not be liable for all the loss. Sometimes the shop may have caused or contributed directly to the damage.

If items are stacked or displayed on an unstable shelf, the shop can’t ask you to pay for the damaged stock as the shop itself did not take adequate care.

Know your rights

The shop can recover all its direct losses for damaged stock if you didn’t take reasonable care or adequately supervise your children.

The amount is usually the retail price of the product including any loss of profit from the shop now being unable to sell it. You may also have to pay for any damage to shop fittings caused by your actions.

You are not liable to pay if an event outside your control leads or contributes to the damage.

Your liability is limited if any shop stock breakages are caused by other factors, such as placing fragile items on unstable shelves.

Although the shop could choose to claim on their insurance, this will depend on whether it is worthwhile for them to do so. Even then, their insurer may claim from you what they had to pay out to the shop.

Your house and contents insurance may cover the cost of any damage as well, although you will have to pay your excess.

A sign like ‘If you break it, you buy it’ may have no legal effect. Whether you have to pay the shop for a breakage will depend on whether you failed to take due care.

But, a shop can display a sign warning you to take care around goods that they know are fragile and need careful handling. For example, ‘Please ask a sales assistant if you would like to look at these products’.

Contact the retailer first to try and resolve any dispute

Try to resolve the dispute directly with the shop first. Explain to them why you do not think you should have to pay. You may want to do this in writing and at a later date. They cannot force you to pay up there and then. If they still want to claim the money from you, the shop could take you to the Disputes Tribunal but they will have to prove you were careless.

Read Resolve a problem to find out more.

Apply to the Disputes Tribunal or District Court

The shop may make a claim to the Disputes Tribunal or the District Court if you can’t agree over payment for any damaged stock.

They can apply to the Disputes Tribunal to get compensation (for contracts up to $15,000), or to the District Court (for contracts greater than $15,000).

Read Going to the Disputes Tribunal to find out more.

Need more help?

Contact us for more guidance.

Common situations

Failing to supervise your children

Mary has a small toddler with her when she is in a homewares shop looking for a new casserole dish. The toddler wanders off around the shop, picks up a glass bowl and drops it. Mary will be liable for the damaged stock, as she did not supervise her child with adequate care.

Damage outside your control

You have to move quickly to the exit of the shop because of a fire alarm. On the way, you are pushed by the crowd and upset a table with glasses on it. In this case, it is unlikely you would pay for the broken glasses, as it is reasonable to take care of yourself rather than property when your life may be at risk. Other factors contributed to the damage.