June 26, 2007

Judge loses pants and suit

A few days ago I posted about the DC judge who was suing his dry cleaners for $54 million because they lost his pants. Now he is not only pantless, but he also lost his suit. The story has been reported far and wide, by the Sydney Morning Herald, by  BBC radio and, of course, by the local Washington Post. Big, big news! The outcome of this case probably comes as no surprise to anyone, and the judge's interpretation of the dry cleaner's window slogan, "Satisfaction Guaranteed," upon which words the plaintiff based his case, seemed about right to me.

In her 23-page dismissal of DC Superior Court Judge Roy Pearson's lawsuit about the missing half of his business suit, Judge Judith Bartnoff said:

"A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'satisfaction guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a consumer's unreasonable demands or to accede to demands that the merchant has reasonable grounds to dispute."

The word,"reasonable" rears its familiar head in lots of lawsuits (reasonable doubt, resonable minded, reasonable person). That which is "reasonable" has to be appropriate to the issue. So I suppose Judge Bartnoff meant here that a reasonable person would expect "satisfaction guaranteed" to indicate that customers should be satisfied with equitable offers of replacement value for lost items. In this case, the dry cleaners had offered Pearson $12,000 to settle the case out of court. Now he gets zero, nada, zip. Not only that, he also  has to pay the legal costs charged by the dry cleaner's lawyers, common for plaintiffs in lawsuits that they lose.

It would have been far better for Pearson to have taken the cleaner's offer than to lose his shirt along with his pants.

[Language Log, on the other hand, offers even the most unreasonable reader a cheerful refund of the subscription price in case of less than full satisfaction. In fact, we often give double or even triple the subscription price if a reader is especially unreasonable, and higher multiples are available on request.]

Posted by Roger Shuy at June 26, 2007 08:43 AM