Such a lot of bother over $49

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 17, 2010

There is nothing common about common sense, and for some folks plain English seems incomprehensible.

Take a warranty, for example. If a manufacturer or retailer promises to replace a defective product within a specified time from the point of sale, but restricts that offer to the original purchaser, those terms are comprehensible to a person who understands plain English. Anyone with common sense would refrain from trying to enforce such a warranty after it expired or the product was resold to a third party.

One might reasonably expect a lawyer to have an appreciation for the legality and practicality of warranties, as well as common sense and an understanding of plain English. A warranty, after all, protects both the buyer and the seller.

Wheeling lawyer Joseph John seems to prefer a different line of reasoning. For him, plain English is not plain and warranties are living documents to be construed as need arises.

Joseph's wife, Karen, bought a jeep from Scott McMahon that contained a battery he had recently purchased for $49 from Advance Auto Parts in Weirton. The battery died, and Karen took it back for a replacement. Store personnel would not honor the warranty without a receipt.

The Johns obtained the receipt from McMahon and Joseph tried again to secure a replacement battery, only to learn that the warranty covered the original purchaser alone.

When McMahon reimbursed the Johns for the cost of a new battery, that seemed to be the end of the story.

Instead, Joseph filed suit against the store on behalf of McMahon. He subsequently amended the complaint, adding his wife as plaintiff and proposing a class action.

The case went to the state Supreme Court of Appeals, which decided in favor of Advance.

"At the moment the original purchaser sold the battery," Justice Brent Benjamin explained, "Advance's limited warranty, by its express terms, ceased to exist."

Exactly! Common sense and plain English prevailed. Justice Benjamin gets it. More upholders of the law need to step out of the legal murk and practice some common sense.

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