The Death of Contract
IN 1958 Chester Vandermark bought a new car from the Maywood Bell Ford dealership near Los Angeles. Six weeks and 1,500 miles later, Chester was driving his sister Mary to Joshua Tree in the California desert. "[T]he car started to make a little shimmy or weave and started pulling to the right. . . . I tried to pull back, but it didn't seem to come, so I applied my brakes gently to see if I could straighten her up, but I couldn't seem to pull her back to the left. So, I let off on the brakes and she continued to the right, and . . . all of a sudden this pole was in front of me and we smashed into it." The car's brakes had failed. Both Chester and Mary were seriously hurt.
They sued Maywood Bell, among others. The dealership indignantly disavowed all responsibility. Its contract with Vandermark, after all, was quite explicit. "Dealer's obligation under this warranty is limited to replacement, without charge . . . of such parts . . . acknowledged by Dealer to be defective. . . . This warranty is expressly in lieu of all other warranties, express or implied, and of all other obligations on the part of Dealer."
The case moved up the slow legal escalator and finally reached the California Supreme Court in 1964. Maywood Bell was in for a rude shock. "[T]he fact that [the dealer] restricted its contractual liability to Vandermark is immaterial," the court announced. "Regardless of the obligations it assumed by contract, it is subject to strict liability." The contract terms,