$1,400 car sale dispute in 1973 became a landmark case

Senior counsel Michael Hwang brought the case over a relatively paltry sum of $1,400 all the way to the Court of Appeal in 1973 and won.
Senior counsel Michael Hwang brought the case over a relatively paltry sum of $1,400 all the way to the Court of Appeal in 1973 and won.ST FILE PHOTO

For emeritus lawyer Michael Hwang, fighting a case involving only $1,400 in 1973 through three courts holds special meaning.

Dr Hwang's client, a second-hand car dealer who sold an eight-year-old BMW to a Royal Air Force officer, took the buyer to court for rejecting the car after about two weeks' use.

The buyer, a Mr Kerr, had given his client a post-dated cheque for March 1, 1970, for $1,400 but stopped payment on Feb 28, claiming the car was not roadworthy due to some mechanical problems.

Dr Hwang's client sued and won in the District Court for $1,400 and costs, but lost when Mr Kerr appealed to the High Court, which ruled the car was not roadworthy.

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The client insisted on a further appeal to the top court presided by then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin. Dr Hwang, a Senior Counsel, said he was "fearful the Court would reprimand me for bringing such a trivial case to the Court of Appeal".

Instead, the court heard him out "quietly" and ruled for his client, holding the defects complained of were to be expected of a second-hand vintage car.

"The case was a landmark in the law of the sale of a second-hand vehicle," said Dr Hwang, who was a former judicial commissioner.

He explained that if the car was not rejected after two weeks, the buyer would be deemed to have accepted the car unless defects making the car unroadworthy were not discoverable within the two weeks.

"The case represents my first positive contribution to the case law of Singapore and is a memory I will always treasure," he said.

Dr Hwang is also a former Law Society president. He runs his own firm here and is a non-resident Chief Justice of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline '$1,400 car sale dispute in 1973 became a landmark case'. Print Edition | Subscribe