Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc. – (Products Liability: Implied Warranty)
Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc., 32 N.J. 358, 161 A.2d 69 (1960)
BY: James F. Polk – AISOL YEAR ONE STUDENT
- Claus Henningsen and his Wife went to Bloomfield Motors, Inc. and picked out a 1955 Plymouth Club Sedan.
- Claus Signed the Printed One Page Purchase Order.
- The type as it went down the page got gradually smaller all the way to two final paragraphs of 6pt. type.
- The two paragraphs with 6pt. type at the very bottom were the smallest type and stated that the front and back of the page were the entirety of the agreement.
- The back of the document contained another fine print paragraph stating that there were neither any implied nor any express warranties on the vehicle.
- Chrysler’s Liability was limited only to defective parts sent to the factory for examination and determination by the manufacturer as defective.
- Klaus did not read these paragraphs.
- Bloomfield did not bring them to his attention.
- 10 days after the purchase his Wife Hellen was driving the car.
- Hellen heard a loud breaking noise.
- The Car swerved off the road.
- She hit a brick wall and the car was totaled.
- The Insurance Inspector said there was something wrong with the Steering Wheel and that it was likely a mechanical defect or failure.
- The vehicle had sustained too much damage in the crash that it was impossible to ascribe causation.
- The Henningsens sued Bloomfield and Chrysler for having breached express and implied warranties.
- Trial Court Ruled in Favor of the Henningsens.
- Bloomfield and Chrysler appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Issue: Is there an Implied Warranty Obligation with respect to a Product that a Manufacturer Produces and Markets?
Conclusion: Yes. Yes a Manufacturer who produces a product for a purpose and then advertises/markets it for that use creates an Implied Warranty of Suitability for the purpose for which it was advertised. A Manufacturer who markets products directly to consumers has a duty to those consumers.
Justice Francis Opined for the Majority: Under traditional contract law a party is bound to the terms of a contract whether they have read them or not. Traditional Contract Law assumes the parties have equal bargaining power whereas in car purchases they do not. Manufacturers advertise their products and the consumer has to rely on the manufacturer’s assurances that the car is fit for use. The same goes to some extent for the dealer. A Buyer cannot inspect and assess the car as far as quality etc. and this is a gross inequality in bargaining position. Car manufacturers do not compete with one another with respect to express warranties. Buyer does not negotiate for better treatment. The manufacturer’s obligation to a buyer should be based on standard legal principles and not privity of contract they happen to enter into with any one particular buyer. Court Affirmed the Judgments in Favor of the Henningsens.
Rule: An Implied Warranty that the Vehicle is Reasonably Suitable for the Intended and Advertised use runs with it to the Ultimate Purchaser. Small Print Disclaimer could not overcome this Implied Warranty which would be against the public good.
Rule Proof: People are held to contracts to which they sign whether they read them or not unless there is a gross disparity in bargaining position. It is in the public interest that implied warranty runs with sales made by manufacturers based on principle and not privity.
Application to these Facts: Claus’s Contract was a Standardized Form Imposed upon the Consumer. No bargaining and the dealer did not have authority to alter the contract. The Dealer did not call the Purchaser’s Attention to the Warranty Clauses on the back of the contract. Type Size gave rise to question as to sufficiency of adequate notice to purchaser. The buyer might not realize what rights they were relinquishing even if it was adequate notice. Court called Chrysler’s Form Warranty a, “Sad commentary upon the automobile manufacturer’s marketing practices” because it allowed a manufacturer using a form to limit it’s own liability and that is for the Court to decide.
No Counterargument was to much avail. The Courts held that the Manufacturer could not subvert legal principle with regards to their liability simply by using in essence a contract of adhesion.
The segment below is from the very last few paragraphs of the opinion:
Plaintiffs contend on cross-appeal that the negligence claim against the defendants should not have been dismissed. Their position is that on the facts developed, the issue should have been submitted to the jury for determination. The result we have reached on the other aspects of the case makes it unnecessary to consider the problem. For that reason we express no opinion thereon.
All other ground of appeal raised by both parties have been examined and we find no reversible error in any of them.
Under all of the circumstances outlined above, the judgments in favor of the plaintiffs and against defendants are affirmed.
For affirmance Chief Justice WEINTRAUB, and Justices BURLING, JACOBS, FRANCIS, PROCTOR and SCHETTINO 6.
For reversal None.