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Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc.

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff was driving her automobile when “something went wrong” and the automobile crashed into a wall. She sued both the manufacturer and the retail dealer of the automobile for breach of implied warranty of merchantability. The jury found in favor of plaintiff and defendants appealed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When a manufacturer places a product into the stream of commerce and promotes that product to the public, then the manufacturer incurs an implied warranty that the product is reasonably suitable for its advertised use.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The task of the judiciary is to administer the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

Mr. Henningsen purchased a 1955 Plymouth automobile from Bloomfield Motors (co-defendant) for his wife, Mrs. Henningsen (plaintiff), as a Christmas gift. Mr. Henningsen did not read the 8 ½ inches of fine print on the back of the contract for the purchase of the automobile. Included in the fine print was a clause that stated the manufacturer and the dealer gave no express or implied warranties other than to the replacement of defective parts within 90 days or before the automobile had been driven 4,000 miles. One day while Mrs. Henningsen was driving the automobile, “something went wrong” with the steering gear. The automobile suddenly turned sharply and crashed into a wall. Mrs. Henningsen was badly injured as a result of the accident. She sued both the manufacturer of the car, Chrysler Corporation (co-defendant), and the retail dealer, Bloomfield Motors. She alleged negligence and breach of implied warranty of merchantability. The court dismissed Mrs. Henningsen’s negligence claims. The sole issue presented to the jury was of implied warranty of merchantability. The court found in favor of Mrs. Henningsen. Chrysler Corporation and Bloomfield Motors appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Issue.

When a manufacturer places a product into the stream of commerce and promotes that product to the public, does the manufacturer incur an implied warranty that the product is reasonably suitable for that use?

Held.

Yes, Chrysler’s attempt to disclaim an implied warranty of merchantability is repugnant to public policy and therefore void.

Discussion.

Parties typically are free to contract on their own. However, consumers like Mr. Henningsen have a grossly unequal position from which to bargain with the automobile industry. There is no competition within the automobile industry with respect to the scope of protection provided to consumers. Here, the warranty given to Mr. Henningsen was a standardized form designed for mass use. In that form, Chrysler attempted to limit its liability to the replacement of defective parts and disclaim all other warranties, express or implied. Warranties were created to safeguard the buyer, not to limit the liability of the manufacturer. Chrysler’s attempted disclaimer of an implied warranty of merchantability is inimical to the public good. Therefore, Chrysler’s attempted disclaimer is invalid.


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