Williamson v Rover Cycle Company Ltd

JurisdictionIreland
Judgment Date16 May 1901
Date16 May 1901
CourtUnspecified Court
Williamson
and
Rover Cycle Company (1).

Appeal.

CASES

DETERMINED BY

THE QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

OF

THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE IN IRELAND,

AND ON APPEAL THEREFROM IN

THE COURT OF APPEAL,

AND BY

THE COURT FOR CROWN CASES RESERVED.

1901.

Sale of goods — Contract — Sale of Goods Act, 1893 (56 & 57 Vict. c. 71), s. 14 — Guarantee — Implied guarantee of fitness and of quality of materials and workmanship — Sale of specified article by its trade name — Negligence — Evidence — Omnia præsumuntur contra spoliatorem — Bicycle.

The plaintiff purchased an 1896 Royal Rover from G., an agent of defendants in Belfast. The machine was described in the Company's catalogue (which the plaintiff read before purchasing), and was in accordance with the description in it. The catalogue contained an express guarantee excluding the guarantee implied by statute or otherwise as to quality or fitness, and guaranteeing that all precautions usual and reasonable had been taken to secure excellence of material and workmanship, and undertaking to make good at any time within a year any defects in these respects. The plaintiff used the machine constantly for over seven months in Belfast, when he took it to pieces and packed it up. The plaintiff then went to England, and after four months he had the bicycle sent over to him at Leeds, where he rode it constantly for two months, when, while riding it at a good pace along a good road for cycling, the steering-post of the machine broke just below the crown plate, the front wheel became detached, and the plaintiff was thrown and injured. After the accident the plaintiff had the machine examined by three persons, who all stated that the break was a clean one—not the result of a flaw, or defective materials or workmanship. The plaintiff sent the broken machine to the defendants “for inspection,” when the defendants replaced the broken parts, and threw them away.

In an action for breach of contract in the sale of the bicycle, The plaintiff obtained a verdict for £120. On motion by the defendants to set aside the verdict and to enter judgment for them, the Queen's Bench Division (palles, C.B., diss.) gave judgment for the defendants. On appeal:—

Held (affirming the decision of the Queen's Bench Division), (1) that the mere happening of the accident, and the fracture and appearance of the tube, were not evidence of the breach of the catalogue guarantee; and (2) (agreeing with the majority of the Queen's Bench) that as three of the plaintiff's witnesses had seen the broken pieces of the machine, the loss and non-production of these broken pieces did not make the defendants spoliatores, or shift upon them the burden of proof.

Appeal by the plaintiff from the judgment of the Queen's Bench Division dated the 16th February, 1900. The facts of the case are reported fully, ante, p. 189.

The arguments were substantially the same as in the Court below:—

The Macdermot, K.C., Bates, K.C., and J. F. Jefferson, for the plaintiff.

Gordon, K. C., Campbell, K. C., and Hume, K. C., for the defendants.

Lord Ashbourne, C.:—

This is an appeal from the Queen's Bench Division who decided (the Chief Baron dissenting) that the verdict should have been directed for the defendants.

The action was brought for breach of contract in relation to the sale of a bicycle to the plaintiff, and was tried before Mr. Justice Andrews and a special jury in Dublin. The facts of the case have been fully and clearly stated in the judgment of Mr. Justice Kenny, and for the purpose of my judgment it is only necessary to refer to them very shortly.

The plaintiff purchased an “1896 Royal Rover” bicycle from the Belfast agent of the defendant Company. The machine was described in the Company's catalogue, and was in accordance with its description therein. The catalogue contained an express guarantee, excluding “the guarantee implied by statute or otherwise as to quality or fitness.” It contained the following express guarantee:—“We guarantee, subject to the conditions mentioned below, that all precautions which are usual and reasonable have been taken by us to secure excellence of materials and workmanship; and we undertake to make good at any time within a year any defects in these respects in our cycles. This guarantee does not apply to defects caused by wear and fear, misuse or neglect.”

The plaintiff who was a trained and experienced cyclist, carefully examined the bicycle before purchasing, used it frequently for several months, and then took it to pieces and went to England. After some months he got over the bicycle to England, when he used it again frequently for two months until the machine broke at the crown (the top of the steering-post or tube). After the accident the plaintiff had the machine examined by experts, when it appeared that the break was a clean one—not the result of a flaw or defect in materials or workmanship. The plaintiff sent the broken bicycle to the defendants for “inspection.” The Company replaced the broken parts, and threw them away.

Under these circumstances the plaintiff instituted his action for damages, and the jury found everything for him. The defendants moved in the Queen's Bench Division that the verdict and findings of the jury, and the judgment entered thereon, be set aside, and judgment entered for the defendants, or for a new trial on the grounds of misdirection: that the findings were against evidence and the weight of evidence; and that there was no evidence proper to be left to the jury on the original or amended claim.

The arguments in the Queen's Bench Division, and here, practically turned on the meaning and effect of the catalogue guarantee above set out, whether there was any evidence of its breach, and whether there was anything in the special facts of the case to shift the onus of proof from the plaintiff to the defendants. The first and main question is therefore whether there was evidence to go to the jury that the contract in that guarantee was broken?

I can see nothing but the happening of the accident, and the suggestion that res ipsa loquitur, which the plaintiff can rely on to show any kind or form of negligence. Does it show any? If so, what is the form or kind of negligence? A clean break, a clean snap without flaw or blemish was all that appeared. I, therefore, on this...

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