Golf Trolley Fire

In Derek Watters v The Masters Golf Company Limited & Urathon (Europe) Limited, 2013 CSOH 126 the Pursuer, a golf professional, sued the suppliers of a golf trolley and the suppliers in turn brought the manufacturers into the Action.

A Masters NT-E510 golf trolley had been sold by the Pursuer to a Club Member. It was fitted with a 150 watt motor powered by a 12 volt battery. About three or four months after the sale, the trolley apparently developed problems involving stopping and with the trolley and battery both still under warranty, the trolley was returned to the Pursuer’s shop with a view to it then being returned to the suppliers.

On 10 August 2009 it caught fire, causing extensive damage to the Pursuer’s stock. It had been returned by its owner the day before.

The case revolved around the cause of the fire. Experts on both sides agreed that the battery had been left connected to the trolley, otherwise the fire could not have occurred.

The Judge, Lord Tyre, was faced with two competing arguments. The Pursuer’s case, as supported by his expert, was that there had been a manufacturing defect. The defence of the Action was really run by the third party manufacturers and their expert gave evidence that the control box on the trolley had been damaged due to misuse by the owner.

The Pursuer’s argument was that, in terms of the Sale of Goods Act 1979, Section 14(2), where a seller sells goods in the course of a business, there is an implied term that the goods supplied are of satisfactory quality. The relevant aspects of quality include fitness for all purposes for which goods of the kind in question are commonly supplied, safety and durability. It was said that a trolley in its normal lifespan which went on fire in the course of ordinary use was not of satisfactory quality. The position was whether the trolley was defective when supplied or whether a fault developed as a result of misuse by its owner.

In considering the evidence Lord Tyre accepted that the choice was between a manufacturing defect on the one hand or damage to the control box during use of the trolley on the other. He considered whether the evidence demonstrated that a manufacturing defect was more likely than not to have been the cause of the fire.

He concluded that such evidence as there was, taken together with the expert evidence, meant there wasn’t a sufficient evidential basis upon which he could hold “That it is more likely than not that the fault in the trolley’s electrical circuit that resulted in the fire was caused by a manufacturing defect.”

He drew attention to two particular areas where he said the evidence was lacking. Because of fire damage, the control box and circuit board weren’t available to be inspected. This meant that the exact reason why an electrical fault developed could not be ascertained.

The second point was that the owner wasn’t called as a witness. There was therefore no description of the owner’s use of the trolley between its purchase and being handed back to the Pursuer.

As a result of his view of the evidence, Lord Tyre took the view that the Pursuer had failed to discharge the burden of proof which lay on him. He said there was nothing in the evidence he had heard to show, on the balance of probabilities, that a manufacturing defect was responsible for the electrical fault which caused the fire.

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