A $1.25 million lawsuit over a used piano purchased 17 years ago for $9,000 has hit a sour note with a judge who demanded that the plaintiff's attorney "articulate some good faith basis" for the sought-after damages or face sanctions.
"Is it a reasonable application of the privilege to practice law to serve a complaint upon a person, in these circumstances, and stun the recipient-defendant with damage claims beyond the universe of those which logically follow the alleged breach? The Court thinks not," Suffolk County, N.Y., Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo wrote in Palmieri v. The Piano Exchange, 26662/2010.
The March 5 ruling arises from Paul and Karen Palmieri's 1996 purchase of a rebuilt, refinished Weber 6-foot grand piano from The Piano Exchange in Glen Cove, N.Y. The agreement's terms called for a "rebuilt and refurnished-matching bench-guaranteed indefinitely parts and labor." The lawsuit includes allegations of breach of contract, deceit and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The cited damages are 138 times the purchase price of the piano.
Garguilo pointed out that under court rules, attorneysin this case, Judith Berger of Babylon, N.Y.can be sanctioned if their conduct is found frivolous. "Does the administration of Justice include a responsibility to shield litigants from conduct that may cause stress, anxiety and fear of pecuniary ruination far beyond the bounds of reasonable foreseeability? The Court thinks it does," Garguilo wrote.
Berger said in an interview that her client had been sold a faulty instrument. The company, she added, "ignored" repair requests and denied even being asked for repairs, even though the requests were sent via certified mail. "To put a low amount [of damages] would limit my client," she said. "This is a man who deals with the public and he should be held to a high standard."
She also disagreed with Garguilo's ruling, emphasizing that the complaint was so worded that the trier of fact could determine the actual award and noting that discovery had not been completed. "I'm being asked to justify myself for the amount and I think it's too early," she added.
Andrew Keshner writes for the New York Law Journal, a Daily Report affiliate.