November 1960 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Heap many moons ago I was in the
electrical service business. Prior to enlisting in the USAF as an air traffic
control radar technician, I worked for electrical contractors wiring houses and
buildings. After a couple years of doing that, I started with a different
company where most of my tasks were doing troubleshooting and what is called
"old work." Old work is trade lingo for where you install circuits in
preexisting residences and buildings. In fact, if you go to
or Home Depot and ask the attendant for an old work box, he will direct you to
the electrical boxes that are designed to be inserted into a hole cut in a wall
or ceiling to install a new receptacle, switch, light fixtures, etc. ...but I
digress. For the vast majority of service calls I made, the customers were very
friendly and glad to have me (or anyone able to help) there fixing what was
broken or making a good situation better. Occasionally, however, the person
would be a real pain in the donkey by trying to tell me how to do my job, not
liking my long hair (at the time - it was the 1970s after all), or making it
clear that I was only a lowly electrician while he/she was much more
accomplished in life. Many funny stories could be related, but I'll bore you
with just one since it pertains to engineering.
A guy who was a retired (for many years) professor at the
Academy (I lived and worked around Annapolis, Maryland) had a new electric
furnace and A/C installed, and I was there to hook up the power and thermostat.
The furnace and A/C coils were in the attic, as was most of the ductwork. He
insisted on my using conduit (EMT) for the wire
runs, which I did without incident. Upon completing the job, the old boy went up
to inspect my handiwork. All was going well until he saw where I had attached
the conduit in a few places to the metal ducts. He proceeded to lecture me on
how air leakage around the sheet metal screws would cause his system to loose
efficiency by heating and cooling the attic. What could I say? He was the
professor and I was just an electrician, after all. Of course the claim was
absurd, but in order to pacify his tantrum I placed little dabs of
DuctSeal over the head of each screw and edges of the conduit hold-down
clamps to block the escape of the hurricane of air that might otherwise escape.
Fortunately, I never had to deal with the billing side of service.
What can you do when you finish a service job and the owner tells
you to charge it? The answer to this and other questions appears below.
By Leo T. Parker *
Service technicians engaged regularly in servicing TV sets and other electrical
appliances are confronted daily with legal problems that could add up annually to
a substantial sum of money.
For example, recently I received an interesting letter from Mr. W. C. White,
who owns and operates a TV service shop . He says in part: "Yesterday I went on
a call to a private home to service a TV set. I had had no previous business with
this home owner. After I had made proper repairs on the set, including putting in
two new tubes, I made out a bill for $18.50 and handed it to the home owner. He
told me to 'charge it.' I told him that I operate strictly on the cash basis and
have no charge accounts. He said I should have told him that before I started to
work on his set, and that if I had told him that I operated on a cash basis he would
have told me that he would not pay the bill until 90 days. I did not know what to
do, so I told him to pay me in 90 days. Maybe he will pay me and maybe he won't,
as I have no credit approval on him. What do you suggest that I do in cases of this
The answer is: The higher courts very consistently hold that unless the testimony
shows conclusively that before a serviceman rendered services, or a seller delivered
merchandise to a purchaser, an agreement was made whereby the serviceman or seller
agreed to extend credit, cash payment is implied.
For illustration, in Zeff v. Harvey Company, 315 Pac. (2d) 371, it was shown
that a service technician took a customer's note for certain equipment, when the
latter told the service technician that he could not pay cash.
In subsequent litigation, the higher court held that a note is not cash payment.
This higher court also held that there can be no substitute for cash, and, if
a contract or agreement for service fails to clearly state that credit is extended,
cash is always implied. In other words, unless the service technician clearly and
distinctly agrees to credit or time payment, cash must be paid by the customer.
Furthermore, the service technician is not obligated to inform his customer before
he does the work that cash must be paid.
Therefore, where a home owner refused to pay cash after a service technician
has repaired his TV set, the technician can do one of two things:
"He may at once remove ..."
First, he may at once sue the home owner for the amount due and positively recover
a court judgment against the home owner for this amount. Second, he may at once
remove from the repaired TV set all the new tubes and like appliances that he installed
and then later sue the home owner and recover a court judgment for the labor and
In Havas v. Ray Lundy, 276 Pac (2d) 727, the testimony showed that an appliance
was taken to a service shop for necessary repairs. The appliance was not fully paid
for. On completion of the repairs, the service technician retained possession of
the appliance because his bill remained unpaid.
The higher court held that the service technician could remove the newly installed
parts from the appliance before the holder of the conditional contract could repossess
it. The court held that the conditional vendor was not entitled to the parts which
had been installed in the appliance by the repairman.
For comparison, see Clarke v. Johnson, 187 P. 510. Here a service technician
installed parts and repairs in a mortgaged appliance. The court held that the conditional
seller who later repossessed the appliance must pay the repairman for the new parts
Reasonable bill is collectable
Another important point of law was brought up to the writer recently by the owner
and operator of a TV service establishment. He explained that in many instances
the owner of a TV set will order repairs without inquiring the cost. Then, when
the bill is presented, the home owner refuses payment on the grounds that the charges
are too high and that he did not agree to pay such a high bill.
Modern higher courts consistently hold that if a home owner or appliance owner
wants to limit his expenditures for a repair job, he is obligated to have the service
technician make a price or bid before the work is started. If the owner of the TV
set or other appliance does not strictly follow this established rule of law and
allows the service technician to do the repair work, the owner becomes automatically
obligated to pay the "reasonable" cost of the repairs. What is meant by the term
"reasonable" is that price which other technicians of "like" experience, reputation,
and dependability would have charged to do the same job.
For instance, in a late case a litigant named Crawford owns an appliance store
in a high-class location. He rendered a bill to a customer for $280.50 for a repair
job. The customer refused to pay the bill. Crawford sued the customer who had, as
a witness, a man who owned a repair shop located in a disrespectable and cheap neighborhood.
This witness testified that he would have done the same repair job for $125.
"... the reasonable cost ..."
The higher court held that the home owner must pay Crawford's $280.50 bill because
the testimony showed that other proprietors of repair shops in better-class, respectable
neighborhoods considered Crawford's $280.50 bill reasonable.
This higher court explained that men located in cheap neighborhoods naturally
will do service and repair work for less money than those in better or high-class
neighborhoods where rent is higher and probably service technicians are paid higher
Jury will decide
Here is another interesting legal question: "Recently a service technician went
into a home and after inspecting a TV set told the home owner that he could put
it in good condition for $87.50. The TV owner told him to go ahead with the job.
When the technician finished the job, the owner of the set refused to pay $87.50,
saying that he understood the service technician to say that he would do the job
for $27.50. The question is what can the service technician do to collect this $87.50?"
The answer is: He should file suit against this home owner and let the jury decide
the case. The jury will listen to all testimony and decide whose testimony is truthful
and render its verdict accordingly.
Bad check is no payment
Some time ago I talked personally with a man named Wilson who is the owner and
operator of a TV repair shop that employs about 26 service technicians. He told
me that a few days ago a customer gave a bank check in payment for a repair job,
demanding a receipt stating that the account was "paid in full." Later the check
was returned from the bank marked "insufficient funds." Wilson said the bill remains
unpaid because the customer states that he cannot be compelled to pay because he
has in his possession the receipt showing that the bill was paid in full.
Quite obviously, Wilson can easily win a favorable court judgment against this
customer. All he need do is file a suit and at the trial show the unpaid bank check
to the court, which will immediately hold the "paid in full" receipt void and with
no legal value. At the same time, the court will render a judgment against the customer
in favor of Wilson for the full amount of the repair bill plus court costs.
"The jury will decide."
At this same meeting Wilson asked me whether he can sue a customer and recover
a court judgment for a TV repair bill on which he issued a "paid in full" receipt,
but part of which the customer paid with a counterfeit bill.
The answer to this question is: Yes, under ordinary circumstances, Wilson can
sue and the court will issue a judgment against the customer who paid the repair
bill with counterfeit money. This is so because - generally speaking - payment with
counterfeit money is not a valid payment. However, this is not so in all instances,
as the following anecdote will show:
A man named White is said to have registered in a hotel, and to have deposited
in the hotel safe for safekeeping a United States bill for $100. That day the hotel
proprietor used the $100 bill to pay a long overdue debt to a real estate broker,
who in turn used the bill to payoff an overdue debt owed to a TV service technician.
The latter was pleased with the settlement and, thereupon, used the $100 bill to
pay the balance he owed a funeral director. The latter gave the bill to one Ellis
who had furnished services to the funeral director. Then Ellis, in response to urgent
requests for payment of past due debts he owed to the hotel, gave the hotel proprietor
the $100 bill. The hotel proprietor immediately placed it in the safe.
A few days later White requested delivery of his previously deposited $100 bill.
The hotel proprietor produced the bill from the safe and gave it to White who thereupon
lighted a match to it, saying that it was counterfeit.
The important point is that the counterfeit bill was satisfactorily used to payoff
valid debts, and everybody connected with the transactions was satisfied and happy.
How good a witness?
"... and refused to give it ..."
Another rather unique legal problem was presented very recently by an acquaintance.
He said that when he goes into a home on a service call he is alone, whereas the
home owner has members of his family who may be used as witnesses in future litigation
and legal controversies. He wants to know what chance he has to win a suit for $68.50
he now has on his hands against a TV set owner. The owner says he has witnesses
to prove that the service technician told him that he would do the job for $39.50
because of past favors the set owner had rendered the technician.
Obviously, such a case is farfetched and hardly worth this space for consideration.
Nevertheless, it borders on an unusual case where a TV repairman was making change
in the home of a customer. He laid a $20 bill on the TV. Later the home owner picked
up the $20 and refused to give it to the technician, saying that he, the home owner,
had put it on top of the TV set.
All these unusual and unsatisfactory occurrences breed personal combat. However,
it is advisable in such cases to present the facts to a jury, who will listen to
all testimony and render a verdict in favor of the litigant whose testimony it believes
to be true. The jury may make its own decision, irrespective of faked testimony
intended to favor the owner of the TV set. In other words, the jury may believe
or disbelieve a part or all the testimony given by the TV set's owner and his witnesses,
who contest a repair bill. The courts give little or no weight or consideration
to testimony of relatives or close friends of a litigant. This holds whether the
suit involves payment for service, merchandise or in suits for damages by injured
persons. Generally speaking, if a customer fails to introduce witnesses before the
court to prove that the service technician promised to do a job for less than the
amount for which he sued, the jury will decide the verdict in favor of the service
For example, in Reeves v. Child, 194 Pac. (2d) 919, a workman sued a home owner
to recover a bill amounting to $372.41. The property owner testified that the man
had orally promised to do the job for considerably less than the $372.41. On the
other hand, the workman testified that his oral agreement was to complete the job
for about $375.
"... a minor is not obligated ..."
Since the jury believed the workman's testimony, the court held him entitled
to full recovery of this amount.
Quite obviously, all service technicians can avoid legal controversies over the
price for repair work by having any stranger sign a printed agreement to pay a named
price for work to be done on his television set or other appliance.
Law of minors
It is certain that a minor is not obligated on any ordinary contract or promise
he makes. Hence, service or repair work for a minor is a financial loss unless the
minor voluntarily pays the bill.
For illustration, in the late and leading case of Doenges v. Gillen, 328 Pac,
(2d) 1077, the higher court said:
"An infant lacks capacity to make a firm and binding contract; in all such contracts
lies the inherent weakness and condition that the infant may disaffirm the contract
during his minority or within a reasonable time after reaching his majority. The
right to disaffirm is not lost by reason of the fact that the infant has induced
the making of the contract by deliberate misrepresentation of his age."
Law of mechanic's lien
"... counterfeit money is not valid ..."
A great deal of discussion has arisen from time to time over the legal question:
"If a conditional contract of sale of a TV set contains a clause to the effect that
the conditional buyer will not encumber the set, does this render a service technician's
The answer is no.
For example, in Chamvpa v Consolidated Finance Corporation, 98 N. E. (2d) 925,
the testimony showed that a man named Barnett purchased an appliance, paying part
cash. He signed a conditional sales contract which provided that Barnett would not
attempt to sell or "encumber the appliance during the life of the contract."
Sometime later, Barnett ordered the equipment repaired at a service shop but
he did not notify the finance company that it was being repaired, After the repairs
were completed Barnett decided that the costs were more than he could pay, and he
so notified the finance company.
In later litigation the higher court held that the technician could keep possession
of the equipment to solve payment of his bill. The court said:
"The vendor, by entrusting the vendee (Barnett) with possession ... impliedly
clothed him with authority to contract for necessary repairs, so that such repairs
were as though made by vendor's request or direction."
On the other hand, some higher courts have held that where a chattel mortgage
or conditional sale contract on a TV set is properly recorded, a service technician
has only a secondary lien to secure payment for his work. [See Allied v. Shaney,
74 N. W. (2d) 723; and Lincoln v. Netter, 253 S.W, (2d) 260.]
An important point of law is that once a service technician has given up possession
of a set on which money is due for repair work, his mechanic's lien is forfeited.
In other words, the instant the owner takes his set out of possession of the service
technician, the lien automatically becomes void.
Law of service guarantees
Modern higher courts consistently hold that after the purchaser of a TV set puts
it in operation, the seller is bound by any and all reasonable provisions and guarantees
relating to the service he has agreed to give, However, the courts will not permit
any purchaser to impose on a seller, unless such imposition is clearly expressed
in the contract.
For illustration, in one case a contract of sale contained a clause in which
the seller "guarantees that the purchaser shall be satisfied."
Although the TV was reasonably good and worth the purchase price, the purchaser
continually and at unreasonable frequency requested the seller to supply an unnecessary
amount of service in adjusting, repairing and otherwise performing work on the set.
At last the seller refused to supply more service. Then the purchaser notified
the seller that he was not satisfied, and since the seller had guaranteed "satisfaction"
the purchaser demanded that the seller take back the set and refund the amount paid.
He notified the seller that he would not make other monthly payments when they became
The seller filed suit and proved that the set had given reasonably good service,
notwithstanding the complaints registered by the purchaser. In view of this testimony,
the higher court ordered the purchaser to pay the balance due on the set.
* Attorney at law. Cincinnati, Ohio
Posted June 15, 2021