Knarles and Barkley have four full-time employees. One of the employees is a licensed plumber in the District of Columbia. His yearly license renewal is paid by the firm as part of an employment agreement that was negotiated four years ago. That agreement was in writing and was for a period of two years. It was the second such agreement entered into between said employee and Knarles and Barkley. The license, through inadvertence on the part of Barkley, was not renewed this year. In the past Knarles had taken care of this, but he had assigned this duty to his son so he might gain experience in what was involved in the license renewal process.
While Knarles is away in Hawaii at a “green facilities maintenance trade show,” Barkley is approached by a building owner, Ian Chetum, in northern Virginia who has heard of their excellent reputation. Barkley sends Chetum a standard agreement signed by Barkley. Chetum signs it and returns it to Barkley with a check for the first month.
Chetum has an immediate need for the services of Knarles and Barkley as it is the middle of February and his building is without heat. Barkley sends the plumber and another worker to Chetum’s building. While inspecting the non-operating boiler at Chetum’s building, the plumber notices that the boiler is one that has been recalled by the manufacturer, Housewarm, because of a defect that does not allow all the carbon monoxide produced by the boiler to vent properly. This boiler was purchased by Chetum at a salvage yard and replaced another non-operating boiler. Further, the boiler has been improperly installed, according to the plumber. The plumber notifies Barkley of the problems with the boiler and Barkley immediately notifies Chetum. Chetum tells Barkley that he does not want to purchase a new boiler. He asks if the existing boiler can be fixed to get through the winter months. Barkley calls his plumber who is still at the Chetum site and asks the plumber about a quick fix for the winter. The plumber tells Barkley he would not recommend the quick fix for the winter as this boiler is defective and has been recalled. He also tells Barkley: “You’re the boss and I can get it to work if you really want me to.” Barkley replies: “I don’t want you to fix it, the client does. He is the customer and this business has been built on customer service.” Barkley calls Chetum again and relays what his man on the site has said. Chetum replies: “Fix It.”
Knarles returns from his conference shortly after the fix on the boiler has taken place. He reads in the Washington Post on the first morning after his return that a number of residents in a building in northern Virginia had become sickened and admitted to the hospital for observation. It appeared that they were suffering from the effects of exposure to carbon monoxide. These people all lived in the Chetum building. While at lunch that day in a restaurant with his son and other members of the building maintenance community, he tells all about what he read in the Post and says: “Thank God we don’t deal with that jerk Chetum. He is the shadiest operator in this region and would shoot his mother for a buck. What a crook!” One of the people at lunch, Joe Stucko, says: "I agree with you. Chetum stole my plans for converting old HVAC systems to new ones. I should sue him for stealing my ideas.” Knarles later learns from his son of the agreement that he entered into with Cheatum on behalf of the firm. Knarles calls Chetum and tells him he wants no part of the agreement and tells him he will messenger a check over to his office minus the charge for the work already completed by the plumber. Chetum sues for breach of contract.
What legal issues are raised by this case? Please be creative in your thinking.
This question was asked on Jan 20, 2013.
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