Many stores have signs posted stating something to the fact that if you Break an Item you must Pay for it. The typical sign may say “You Break it, you Bought it”. Some stores no longer post such signs as they are not consumer friendly, as well, the action of making a customer pay for a broken item may be illegal, or at least, unenforceable.
In the United States, and most other countries, there is no such law that forces a customer to pay for an item they broke. Indeed, perhaps the item was displayed in a poor manner, or already broken. The threat is used to, hopefully, have customers treat the stores merchandise with respect.
Shops that post signs stating “You Break it, you Bought it” are typically stores with high priced merchandise. Sometimes customers are forced to pick items up to see their prices, as such breakage may occur, in some items it only takes a small tap. But what if the item is more than you can afford?
Well, do not panic, for the most part the law is on your (the customers) side. That is to say, if you broke something by accident you usually cannot be held responsible. The store may be partially to blame for keeping breakable items in such a manner that required you to touch them to determine the price. It might be different if they have clear signs stating for you to ask for assistance, but even then it cannot be assumed that everyone has seen the sign, as such again, the store may be at fault for not keeping the items displayed better.
Back to the law. Typically “You Break it, You Bought it” cannot be enforced against a customer unless the store can prove the customer intentionally broke the item, or did so out of intentional negligence. Let us say the customer was throwing a breakable item for their friend to catch, or allowing their child to play with breakable items. In these cases a court would be able to determine the breakage was the customers fault and they were fully to blame.
At this point the law might require the customer to pay for the full value of the item, in which case the customer would be allowed to keep the item they broke. More often the law is likely to require the customer only to pay for the replacement value of such an item, in other words, the wholesale price. In this case the store would retain ownership of the item as otherwise it would be easy for people to cause small breakages in order to receive items at half price. If the item is a one-of-a kind item, such as an antique, the law may vary on this as far as what might be required in terms of payment.
Generally stores assume the risk of broken items, they cannot even make employees pay for broken items. This also applies in the restaurant industry too. Again, in most areas neither staff, nor customers, can he held liable for accidental breakage. Employees, mind you, can be fired if breakages are too frequent AND due to their carelessness.
Stores, and restaurants can 'write off' a certain amount breakages against taxes, and loss due to accidents as these should be expected, and accepted, as the price of doing business.
Consumers Must Be Responsible
All too often the fear of being hit with the (largely unenforceable) rule of “You Break it, You Bought It” results in customers hiding an item they have accidentally broken. Worse still they teach their children to do the same when their children have broken an item or found an already broken item. The better course of action is to inform an employee that you accidentally broke an item. In such a way they can clean up the mess, possibly make a repair, and get on with their day.
If you are a customer (or employee) and it is put to you to pay for an item you broke you need to know that you do not have to pay, at least not until a court of law decides. You may, however, offer to pay for the item if you feel you were sloppy in handling an item, or for allowing your child to play with an item that they broke or otherwise damaged. Indeed if you, or your child, were irresponsible (it does happen) you should be honest about it.