The Richmond Register

January 12, 2014

The case of the extravagent wife

By Jack Strauss
Register Columnist

BEREA — Stinting Sam was able to convince his wife that economy began at home. To that end, his wife used his department store credit card only to buy necessities such as shoes, gloves and dresses, but nothing extravagant.

One day, Sam’s wife looked in the mirror and, deciding she wasn’t getting any younger, decided to live it up. The first thing she did was buy herself a $10,000 blue mink coat on her husband’s charge account.

Needless to say, upon receiving the bill for the coat, Sam saw red and demanded his wife return it immediately. His wife, however, insisted on holding onto it like it was a winning lottery ticket. Stalemated, Sam refused to pay for the mink and the department store sued him for its $10,000.

“I gave my wife the credit card to buy ordinary things, not to splurge on a wallet-deflating mink coat,” Sam protested in court. “Before selling her an item that expensive, the store should have called and checked with me.”

“Nonsense,” responded the department store’s attorney. “We weren’t his wife’s keeper. Since there was no limit on his credit card, the spending habits of Sam’s wife are his problem, not ours.”

If you were the judge, would you require Sam to pay for the costly mink?

Here’s how the judge ruled: Yes. The judge ruled that a person who has a charge account is responsible for all purchases made by those authorized to use it prior to cancellation or revocation of authority to use it. Since Sam’s credit card had no limit, and since Sam’s wife had the authority to use it, Sam was responsible to pay for the coat, the judge concluded.

Based on a 1955 Illinois Appellate Court Decision.

Jack Strauss, a retired New York City trial attorney who now resides in Berea, wrote a syndicated column for 36 years called, “What’s the Law?” It appeared in papers coast to coast, including the Pittsburgh Press, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Hartford Times, the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Daily News, among many others. It appears here with his permission.