Journalist Mark Hales is facing bankruptcy after he blew the engine of a £1.3million replica Porsche 917 during a test drive. Hales says that the owner, veteran Formula One ace David Piper, told him that he would cover any damage. However, Piper denied the oral agreement occurred and a court ordered Hale to pay $76,000 to cover repairs to the car, plus $100,000 in legal costs.
Hales, 62, writes for Octane and Auto Italia magazine and reportedly over-revved the engine causing it to explode. He has said that he has sold everything that he owns to pay his lawyers and now will have to declare bankruptcy. The imposition of the legal fees for Piper reaffirms my long opposition to the “English Rule” where the loser pays for the other party’s lawyers. It is a ruinous rule that deters people from suing corporations and wealth defendants. It also makes it less likely to be able to secure contingency counsel in such cases.
In this case, the dispute turned on a brief conversation that occurred on the track at Cadwell Park, Lincolnshire in April 2009. Piper was driving a Ferrari owned by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and Hales borrowed his Porsche. Hales says that the Porsche 917 is known to have a problem with blown engines and he says it was Piper who raised the concern of the engine blowing. Hales says that he told him that he could not be responsible and that Piper agreed by saying “okay.” That was not enough for the court.
Hales was found to have driven “below the standard of care required of him”.
I take three lessons from this case. First, as noted by Samuel Goldwyn “oral contracts are not worth the paper they are written on.” Second, the English Rule is a continuing hazard to ordinary citizens in using the court system. Third, do not play with the toys of millionaires without something in writing.
Source: The Sun