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Savidge v. Klaus

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Auglaize

June 19, 2017


         Appeal from Auglaize Municipal Court Trial Court No. 2016 CVF 00284

          James A. Tesno for Appellant

          Stephen J. Mansfield for Appellee


          SHAW, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Ronald E. Klaus ("Klaus"), brings this appeal from the December 21, 2016, judgment of the Auglaize County Municipal Court granting a money judgement against Klaus in favor of plaintiff-appellee, Keith Savidge ("Savidge"), in the amount of $4, 799. On appeal, Klaus argues that multiple findings of the trial court were not supported by the evidence and that the trial court's judgment was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

         Relevant Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} Klaus is a farmer and Savidge is the owner-operator of an agricultural service and repair business. In August of 2015, Klaus brought his 1969 Ford tractor to Savidge to have the clutch repaired and to have a new "pressure plate" put on.[1]Klaus also asked Savidge to check various parts for water leaks including, inter alia, the "head gasket, " and "frost plug." Klaus brought his tractor to Savidge's shop on a trailer. Savidge made the requested repairs to the tractor and he replaced a hose that Savidge determined was leaking after conducting a pressure test.[2] In the process of replacing the hose, all the coolant had to be drained from the tractor. One of the primary disputes in this case is whether the coolant was returned to the tractor after the hose was replaced, which Savidge and his son adamantly maintained happened here.

         {¶3} When the work on the tractor was completed, Savidge notified Klaus and Klaus came to the shop to get his tractor.[3] At the time, Klaus could not arrange to haul the tractor so he attempted to drive the tractor back to his residence, which was over 10 miles away.[4] After Klaus had driven approximately 4 miles, he indicated that the tractor was overheating. Klaus stated that he thought he could smell it. Klaus stated that he pulled the tractor off of the road to let it cool down for a bit, then he drove another 2 miles down the road to Jim Johnson's house, who was a friend and a mechanic.

         {¶4} Jim Johnson indicated that he could see Klaus's tractor coming toward his property, that it looked like the tractor was on fire, with an "ungodly amount of smoke" coming from the "blow by tube."[5] (Trial Tr. at 115-116). Johnson stated that he could smell antifreeze in the air in the smoke. At Johnson's residence the tractor was shut down completely and water was put into the coolant system. So much water had to be added that Johnson and Klaus felt the coolant system had to be empty. Klaus eventually started the tractor again and when it was shut down it had water in the oil and a similar "blow by, " or plume of smoke coming out of the tractor. Further, Johnson indicated that water was coming into the "crankcase" through the engine. Klaus indicated that after letting the tractor sit for a night at Johnson's residence, all the water eventually ran into the crankcase.

         {¶5} Savidge was called and asked to come out to Johnson's property by Klaus.[6] Klaus felt that the incident was caused by Savidge failing to put coolant back into the system after replacing the hose and draining the coolant during the initial repair job. Savidge was adamant that he had a protocol that was always used for returning coolant to the system, and that the protocol was used on Klaus's tractor in this case. Savidge specifically recalled watching his son, who worked part-time for Savidge, put the coolant back into Klaus's tractor, and Savidge's son testified that he did put the coolant back in Klaus's tractor. Savidge maintained that separate problems with the engine caused the overheating, not any failure by him to return any coolant to the system.

         {¶6} Regardless, the tractor was taken back to Savidge's business, where it was determined that the tractor did have engine issues. Klaus took the "block" at Savidge's suggestion to see if there were any cracks in it, and it was determined that the block was cracked and it was ultimately repaired elsewhere. It was "bored" and "sleeves' were put in it. (Trial Tr. at 20).

         {¶7} Savidge then finished the work, which he described as "overhauling] the engine, " on the tractor and notified Klaus that it was ready to be picked up. (Id. at 22). Savidge gave Klaus a bill for $4, 799 and Klaus paid it by check and took his tractor, loading it onto a trailer to haul it away.[7] Klaus stopped payment on the check shortly thereafter.

         {¶8} On April 12, 2016, Savidge filed a "Complaint for Money Judgment" against Klaus for the $4, 779.00 repair bill. Attached to the complaint were copies of the invoice and the check on which the stop payment had been issued.

         {¶9} On May 9, 2016, Klaus filed an Answer and Counterclaim. In the answer, Klaus admitted that Savidge had performed work on the tractor as alleged in the complaint and admitted that he had originally paid by check and stopped payment on the check; however, he asserted a counterclaim alleging that Savidge agreed to "repair and overhaul the clutch" in the tractor in August of 2015, that Savidge's work "caused the coolant to be removed from [Klaus's] tractor and [Savidge] failed to replace it, " that Savidge returned the tractor after he had completed the clutch repairs without replacing the coolant in the tractor, and that due to this negligence, the tractor overheated, causing damage to the engine. Klaus further alleged that in August 2015, Savidge agreed to repair the damage to the tractor occasioned by the overheating. Klaus claimed that he incurred expenses in the repairs/rebuilding of his tractor in the sum of $2, 998.72 with compensable time and mileage of $1, 458.54. Klaus alleged that this was all incurred as a proximate result of Savidge's negligence in failing to place coolant in Klaus's tractor after the initial repairs. Klaus thus demanded payment in the amount of $4, 457.26.

         {¶10} On May 31, 2016, Savidge filed his answer to the counterclaim. Savidge denied that he failed to replace coolant during the original repair.

         {¶11} In September of 2016 a bench trial was held.[8] At trial, Savidge testified in his case-in-chief that he performed repairs on Klaus's vehicle on two separate occasions, both of which were the incidents previously discussed. Savidge's son also testified, specifically regarding the initial repair, stating that he did replace the coolant in Klaus's tractor after replacing the hoses. Savidge testified that he witnessed his son replace the coolant according to their established protocol. In addition, Savidge testified that several, if not all of Klaus's gauges were not working on his tractor during the initial repair job.

         {¶12} Savidge also called Mark Siegel to testify, who owned "Exit 99" engine rebuilders. Klaus's "block" had been brought to Siegel's establishment after Klaus broke down following the initial repair done by Savidge in August of 2015. Siegel testified as to repairing a pinhole in the pressure block in Klaus's engine in this case. Siegel also testified that the pinhole would cause coolant to escape over a period of time, through exhaust or oil. Siegel testified that if a cylinder had a "leaking bore at the bottom" he would expect fluid to be found in the "crank case." (Trial Tr. at 42). Siegel testified that when he repaired the engine there was a leaking bore towards the bottom. (Id.)

         {¶13} In his case-in-chief, Klaus testified that he had no problems with the coolant system prior to the initial repair done by Savidge. Klaus also testified that after his tractor overheated on the way home from Savidge's business, it was his understanding that he would pay for parts to repair the tractor and Savidge would cover the labor. Klaus testified that he believed the only reason the tractor overheated was due to Savidge's failure to put coolant back into the system after the initial repairs. Klaus sought compensation for his time and mileage as a result of what he considered to be Savidge's failure at $100 per hour.

         {¶14} Klaus called four other witnesses to testify, including Joseph Selhorst who sold farm equipment and had worked on tractor engines in the past. Selhorst had never worked on Klaus's engine at any time, but he was asked a number of hypothetical questions essentially giving him the facts of this case. Selhorst was then asked where the coolant could have gone if it was put back into the system by Savidge and he gave several opinions, though he ultimately opined that given the circumstances he would guess that there was no coolant put back into the system by Savidge.

         {¶15} Klaus's son testified at trial that he was the main driver of the tractor in question and that he had no problem with the cooling ...

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