New trial ordered in case of urine-tinged RV

Kathy Woods Oct. 19, 2009, 12:01am

James Nelson

HELENA, Mont.(Legal Newsline)-The Montana Supreme Court says a woman who bought a motor home that at one time had urine-soaked carpet may sue rather than being forced into arbitration.

Lou Hayes Woodruff bought a 2002 Alfa motor home from Bretz RV and Marine in 2006, paying $135,000.

As the weather warmed the stench from the motor home was unbearable, she said in court papers.

Woodruff hired a restoration and janitorial service to clean the motor home. The service inspected the motor home and found pet urine "in great quantities throughout the entire carpet" and in the walls. The area was deemed to be "non-salvageable due to the extreme amounts of urine."

Woodruff filed a lawsuit in January 2007 in Missoula District Court. She was seeking damages for breach of contract, fraud, breach of good faith and fair dealing and violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

Bretz moved to compel arbitration as stated in the purchase contract. The District Court granted their motion.

Woodruff appealed, arguing that the arbitration clause was not within her reasonable expectations as a consumer and because she was unaware that she had waived her rights to a jury trial and access to the courts.

In a 4-2 ruling the Supreme Court said that the contract met the requirements of an "adhesion contract," where one party drafts the contract and the other party has no negotiating rights. The court said that such contracts cannot be enforced against the "weaker" party.

The Supreme Court ordered a new trial in the case.

Justice James C. Nelson wrote for the high court: "We are not even remotely persuaded that an ordinary consumer in Woodruff's position and with her relative level of sophistication regarding arbitration clauses would reasonably expect that she is giving up her valuable right to present such facts to a jury."

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