The Richmond Register

January 13, 2013

The case of the smoldering memory

You be the judge

By Jack Strauss
Register Columnist

BEREA — Ed managed to save enough money over the years to buy himself an expensive new car. And when he got it, he not only took care of it with love and devotion, he practically babied it with everything but talcum powder. Consequently, his despair was understandable one day when he pulled into the parking lot of a supermarket and the engine of his shiny new car suddenly caught fire. What’s more, by the time the firefighters arrived on the scene, all that was left of it was a smoldering memory.

Shuffling sadly away from the parking lot – looking over his shoulder periodically at his charred car – Ed sued the dealer who sold it to him for breach of warranty.

“The car only had 1,000 miles on it,” Ed complained in court, “and was only three months old. When you consider all the tender care I gave it, the only possible conclusion is that, when I got it, it wasn’t free of defects in materials and workmanship as warranted.”

“That’s pure speculation,” responded the car dealer. “It’s like saying that if my uncle had long hair, he’d be my aunt instead of my uncle. The fact is, there is absolutely no evidence to indicate why the fire started. Consequently, there is no way I can be held responsible.”

IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE, would you hold the dealer liable under his warranty for Ed’s charred car?

This is how the judge ruled: YES! The judge held that there wasn’t a scintilla of evidence to indicate that Ed had, in any way, abused the car or its motor. Nevertheless, noted the judge, the car caught fire after only three months of ownership and 1,000 miles of travel. Common sense and logic, concluded the judge, presents the inevitable inference to be drawn that the fire had been caused by some defect in material or workmanship covered by the warranty.

(Based upon a 1968 Kansas City Court of Appeals 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.

Copyright, 1978, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.