Court case might change the laws of second-hand buying: Craigslist, eBay, others in jeopardy

I’m always scared of lawyers. We live in litigious times, and lawyers are the “new priesthood, baby!” They’re involved in everything. When I got my first “cease and desist” from Apple, we had a party. I’m not sure what that says about me or Apple, but it makes a point: when threatened, we rattle our sabers in the form of calling our lawyers.

What’s really frightening, however, is when crackpots bring suits that bear fruits. Take, for example, the case of Baily v. Lewis Farm, wherein a dude buys a truck on Criagslist, the truck causes an accident, and everyone who ever previously owned the truck is sued and might be liable for damages. And you just wanted to unload a finicky iPod, didn’t you?

In a nutshell, a company called May Trucking was in possession of a truck that had scored 500,000 miles. Later, it sold it to someone who owned it briefly and then sold it to Lewis Farms. While under the ownership of Lewis Farms, the axle broke. Wheels flew, and one of them hit the car of one Mr. Jerome Bailey. Bailey crashed that car, and then sued everyone who ever owned the truck for negligence. It was their truck, they should have cared for it properly, or so the argument goes.

It sounds like a trash lawsuit, but the judge in the case sided with Bailey. May Trucking argued that since it didn’t have ownership of the truck at the time of the accident, there’s no way it’s liable for what happened. Normally, that would be the end of it, but the court decided that negligence and ownership are not the same thing.

The case is still being argued, but the consequences, in theory, could echo to everyone who’s ever bought or sold on Craigslist or eBay or any other marketplace, online or off. Can I be held liable for a Zune I sold to someone who sold it to someone else? It could be. And that prospect frightens me, and it should frighten you.