A Massachusetts accountant has vowed never to sell anything on Craigslist again, after getting embroiled in a nearly seven-year legal fight over the quality of a printer he sold online.
In 2009, Doug Costello sold a monochrome printer to Gersh Zavodnik in Indiana for $40, plus about $25 in shipping charges. Shortly afterwards Zavodnik, who has been described [PDF] by Indiana's Supreme Court as a "prolific, abusive litigant," went to court claiming damages.
Zavodnik initially filed his complaint in Marion County's small-claims court asking for $6,000 in damages (the maximum amount allowed), as the printer was defective when it arrived. But that case was dismissed when Zavodnik admitted he had already thrown away the printer and could not produce it as evidence.
"I figured that's it," Costello told the Indianapolis Star. "But no, no, no. Now I'm in another twilight zone."
However, Zavodnik then filed a case in the Marion Superior Court asking for damages for breach of contract, fraud, conversion, deceptive advertising and emotional distress. He asked for $30,000 but the court dismissed the case, along with 26 others that he had filed. The case was referred to the court of appeals in March 2012.
Zavodnik sent Costello two requests for evidence, one claiming he had conspired with the presiding judge and asking for $300,000 in damages, and another asking him to admit liability for $600,000 in the case of the $40 printer.
Costello claims he didn't get the requests, but under Indiana law, as he didn't respond to the request within 30 days or attend a hearing on the matter, then the legal rule is that he admitted the liabilities and damages by default.
At this point, Costello lawyered up and his attorney filed to dismiss. The courts were slow on the matter and several judges recused themselves from the case, leading the state Supreme Court to appoint a special judge to oversee the case.
In March 2015, Special Judge Jeffrey Edens awarded Zavodnik $30,044.07 for breach of contract over the printer sale. He acknowledged in his ruling that the ruling amount "may seem extreme for the breach of contract for the purchase of a printer," but that the law was the law. However, it did strike down the $300,000 and $600,000 claims.
Both sides appealed that verdict, but this time the case was heard quickly – later that month. The appeals court struck down the case and used strong language [PDF] in doing so.
"With regard to damages, Zavodnik did not ask Costello to admit any facts that would justify an award of damages in excess of the purchase price," the judgment reads. "His failure in this regard strongly indicates that his requests asserting more than $30,000 in damages (at least 400 times more than the purchase price) had no basis in reality."
The case is still ongoing, however, since the appeals process isn't the end of the line. Costello, who has spent $12,000 (£8,300) on the case so far, will have to carry on the litigation. But he says the experience has decided him on never, ever selling anything online again. ®
Because you want to see it, that scene where they trash the printer in Office Space is here.