Radiant heating had a false start in this country back in the 1950s when customers and installers found out the hard way that copper corrodes when imbedded in concrete. Copper was the main tubing product used with radiant systems back in those days, and the leakers that developed killed enthusiasm for the technology until it was resurrected in this decade thanks to a variety of plastic and rubber piping products. Then, about a year ago, came word that Heatway’s Entran II hose had developed more than a few failures in the field. After this came to light in a misleading Wall Street Journal article that depicted radiant heat as a toy for the rich, it seemed to be, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “déjà vu all over again.”

That hasn’t happened. Radiant heating continues to grow. This has to be taken as testimony to the strong appeal of radiant technology. Even the folks at Heatway tell me they’re enjoying a banner year despite the bad publicity. It seems that the market is growing so fast the Entran II catastrophe has amounted to nothing more than a speed bump.

The Buck Stops Here

Heatway’s product failures naturally have spawned user lawsuits against them. The company in turn has sued Entran II’s manufacturer, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., charging them with shipping a defective product that did not meet the contracted engineering specs.

Goodyear denied this and countersued, naming as defendants not only Heatway but also contractors, subcontractors and suppliers of Entran II, along with “unknown mechanical engineers or mechanical engineer firms which may have designed, approved, installed and/or maintained the hydronic systems…” in affected residences. In other words, Goodyear claimed it wasn’t their product at fault, but the way it was used. There matters stood until this past April 26, when an astonishing thing happened.

Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the United States District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, issued a ruling that said: “A jury trial is scheduled in this matter on January 10, 2000. The pivotal issue in this case is whether the Entran II hose manufactured by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (‘Goodyear’) and sold to Chiles Power Supply, Inc. (‘Heatway’) was defective, i.e., that it was unfit for its intended use, radiant heating systems in homes, when Goodyear sold it to Heatway. If the jury finds that the Entran II hose was not defective, Heatway can recover no damages from Goodyear and the rest of Heatway’s counterclaims are inconsequential.”

There you have it. In plain English and with compelling logic, a judge actually cut through legalistic blarney in order to place blame where it belongs.

Never mind Goodyear’s attempt to pass the buck. No bloody glove conspiracy theories will be entertained in this courtroom. Judge Polster has said that either Goodyear did or did not ship faulty product, period. If they did, then a second trial will be held to determine how much they should pay. If they didn’t, then it’s Heatway that must endure the financial pain. Isn’t that the way it should be?

Hygiene is Dangerous to Your Health!

In a perfect world, logic and clarity in the law would be cause for no more than a shrug of the shoulders. But let’s face it, the screwball times we live in warrant singling out this ruling as a case of “man bites dog.”

Keep in mind that I’m writing this from Chicago, where a few weeks ago the American Dental Association and assorted toothbrush makers went to court defending themselves against a class action lawsuit claiming the public has been greatly harmed by “toothbrush abrasion”—as if the point of these devices were something other than to abrade.

Trimarco v. Colgate Palmolive and others (the ADA is included because they give their seal of approval to toothbrushes) asserts that vigorous brushing can cause harm to gums. Hear that screaming of logic being tortured?

A direct analogy does not apply to the Heatway-Goodyear case, in which nobody denies that heating system defects caused harm. The only reason I draw a comparison with the toothbrush fiasco is to contrast the abuse of our legal system in Chicago and in so many other courthouses with the unexpected outbreak of common sense in Ohio.

Nothing is simple with the law, of course. No matter what the jury rules next January, rest assured there will be appeals or other legal maneuvers by the loser to get out from under the verdict. Nonetheless, Judge Polster deserves the term “Honorable” for cutting through all the nonsense with which attorneys burden our courts. For its part, Heatway claims this ruling as a victory, although they don’t like the delay of the trial until next year. They say they are eager to argue their case. Goodyear could not be reached for comment.

Nothing guarantees that the jury is going to rule the right way. No doubt jurors will hear expert testimony from both sides that will serve more to muddy this issue than clarify it. The technical evidence may end up beyond their comprehension, and, if so, the jurors will rule on the basis of whichever lawyer best tugs at their heart strings or tells the most plausible lies.

But for at least this bright shining moment we can take heart that justice is on the right track to prevail.