Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc.
(Assent to Standardized Forms)
- Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc., 32 N.J. 358, 161 A.2d 69 (1960)
History: The Supreme Court of New Jersey
CLAUS H. HENNINGSEN AND HELEN HENNINGSEN, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS AND CROSS-APPELLANTS, v. BLOOMFIELD MOTORS, INC., AND CHRYSLER CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS AND CROSS-RESPONDENTS.
history: Court of Original Jurisdiction
- Plaintiff: CLAUS H. HENNINGSEN AND HELEN HENNINGSEN, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS AND CROSS-APPELLANTS
- Defendant: BLOOMFIELD MOTORS, INC., AND CHRYSLER CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS AND CROSS-RESPONDENTS.
- The Plaintiff Henningsen’s car steering failed.
- The Henningsen’s had purchased the vehicle from the Defendants Bloomfield Motors.
- Specifically Mr. Henningsen had purchased the vehicle from Bloomfield who had acquired it from Chrysler Corp. and had then given it as a gift to his wife Mrs. Henniingsen.
- The Purchase Contract had a Disclaimer of all Express and Implied Warranties on the back.
- There was an exception for repairing or replacing defective parts within 90 days or 4,000 miles after the car was delivered to the original buyer.
- Henningsen brought an action for negligence and breach of warranty.
- Her negligence claim was dismissed.
- The breach of warranty claim proceeded to the jury.
- This form was widely used throughout the automotive industry, but the jury found in her favor.
Issue: Is the limited liability clause of the purchase contract valid and enforceable?
Reasoning: A disclaimer of limitation of liability will only be given effect if fairly procured. If it is not pointed out as existing and the main points at least addressed then it has been unfairly procured given the disparity in bargaining power of the parties.
Analysis: Disclaimers are not enforceable where the waiver language is not explicit in the contract nor mentioned specifically by the salesperson. Consumers must be made aware of disclaimers, or they must be clear and explicit, for them to be recognized by courts as limitations on liability.
Conclusion: Held. No. The general rule states that, in the absence of fraud, one cannot seek relief from the terms of a contract that he fails to read before signing it. However, due to the gross inequality in bargaining positions occupied by an automobile dealer and a consumer, a disclaimer of liability will not be enforced if it is not brought to the purchaser’s attention or it is not clear and explicit. Here, Defendant did not make Plaintiffs aware of the language on the back of the purchase contract, and Defendant never addressed the language with Plaintiffs.
Consumers must be made aware of disclaimers, or they must be clear and explicit, for them to be recognized by courts as limitations on liability.