Violinist Sues Luthier Over Snap Decision


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What a nightmare! The bow, (the "Henry Bow") by the acclaimed French maker J. Henry.... I wonder how many lawyers will be calling me now, wanting to represent me, thinking it was a bow of mine?

 

It is very interesting that the lawsuit states that the stick was bent cold, and never heated up. I wonder how that was figured out. Did it break in front of the owner? Did he actually see the straightening process first hand, so he knows there was no attempt to heat the stick? Even people with little to no experience with bows (like violin makers :rolleyes:) know that a stick has to be heated to straighten it. I wonder how accurate the lawsuit description is in this regard, or if the lawyer is just running with something that is conjectured. A repairman with 20 years experience would definitely know that the bow stick needed to be heated. Also, where is his insurance company?

 

Wait and see.

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We don't have enough information yet to know about the insurance company (if any). The insurance contract may specify that they will pay, once liability of their insured is established (which could mean a court judgment). Or the contract may specify that they also have a right to defend the claim in court, or settle as they see fit.

 

It's hard to know what you've got without reading the full insurance contract, knowing something about the reputation of the company, and having made an actual claim.

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We don't have enough information yet to know about the insurance company (if any). The insurance contract may specify that they will pay, once liability of their insured is established (which could mean a court judgment). Or the contract may specify that they also have a right to defend the claim in court, or settle as they see fit.

 

It looks like repair people need to pick their insurances rather carefully and fully understand what it is the insurance will pay.  For example, if the contract requires a court judgment in order to trigger an insurance payment, but the contract calls for paying only for the damaged item, then the repairer could be responsible for legal costs of both parties, possibly a rather large sum. 

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In the meantime, the insurance company may issue a "reservation of rights" letter, telling the insured that they may or may not ultimately be covered, even if the insurance company is beginning to treat the claim as if it is covered.

 

It's not uncommon for an insured to end up suing their own insurance company to get a claim paid.

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Scenario:   Hands bow over.  Bow breaks way too easy.  Guy looks at it, says "Hey, this already had a crack, take a look here where stuff has penetrated along it. Let's see what my insurance company does."  Files a claim.  Company says "Hey, defective goods, no go on the money."  Bow guy goes to attorney, who says "That's a question of fact that needs to be sorted out by a finder of fact."  Prepares and files suit.  Insurance company attorney takes over and files answer.  That an insurance company is involved doesn't show up in the Complaint.  

 

So the parties will do the normal lawsuit process of discovery (I'm responding to overbroad discovery right now this evening) and they'll be a deposition or two or four (Plaintiff, Defendant individual on behalf of self and company, Plaintiff's expert, Defendant's expert).  Might be a mediation or other negotiation.  Or it could go to a finder of fact for determining the facts and applying the law.

 

Edit: wow, barely got through training scraper use and drinking half a beer and there are answers!  

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Even if the bow wasn't heated, a repairer, or anybody who wants to examine a bow, might flex a bow just to get a sense of the strength of the stick with no intent of straightening it by that flexing.  I've done that to bows.  Maybe I should stop doing that.  A healthy bow would probably be ok with that.  One with a crack could, I guess, break.  After it's broken, sorting out the health of the bow before the break would be the problem, as steveperry, above, points out.

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How are luthiers in the U.S. insured?

 

Assuming that the bow did not have an existing crack and the luthier was acting properly, what type of insurance would cover this? Errors and Omissions? General liability?

 

Bows frighten me - wouldn't one normally carefully inspect a bow before attempting to straighten it?

 

So many questions ...

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First question: how do you know the bow wasn't heated? Was the plaintiff staring over the repairman's shoulder? Sounds fishy.

Others have raised this same question about looking over the repairman's shoulder. The complaint states that the repairman agreed to do the repair in "less than an hour," while the customer waited. This suggests that the bow owner very well might have been watching the action. It's even possible that the repair person was simply flexing the bow, as someone else here stated is commonly done, while assessing its condition. It's certainly conceivable that the bow had a defect before it entered the shop.

I recall reading that bow repairers often do caution their customers that recurves and straightening are, by their nature, risky procedures. One very fine bow maker near where I live says on his website that approximately one in seven new bow sticks breaks when it's getting its initial camber, due to defects in the stick that aren't seen before cambering. On the other hand, this bow in question had a 160 year history, with probably many straightenings and recurves that it survived. The repairer certainly deserves an opportunity to state his perspective on this.

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The inclusion of the ten john doe defendants suggests that the plaintiff believes that up to ten other people in the shop might be guilty in some fashion which suggests to me that the snapping was done outside of the view of the violinist.

 

Can a skilled bow repairer straiten a bow like this in under an hour?

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Can a skilled bow repairer straiten a bow like this in under an hour?

 

Yes. I do it regularly. I also do it as often as I can with the player. This way, I can see them play the bow--see how much pressure they apply, see their bow hand, and observe other things that might affect the performance of the bow, and make the player part of the process.  They can play the bow after small tweaks have been made. They can see what is happening, and can immediately give feedback (after the stick has cooled enough to play). However, I always explain the process to the player ahead of time, so not to freak them out when I start holding the bow over a flame, and I also explain the risks involved. I usually explain this process similar to having the soundpost adjusted in their instrument--make an adjustment, and let them play it. I've never had a client sign a liability release, but I have declined to recamber or straighten a bow after finding repairs or flaws during an inspection of the stick. 

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Can a skilled bow repairer straiten a bow like this in under an hour?

 

At a VSA convention, maybe 2008 in Portland OR,  a bow expert heated and recambered a bow 3 or 4 times in the hour of his presentation.  Recambering is a form of rebending a bow to the desired shape.  I assume that heating and straightening a bow is essentially the same thing, namely changing a curve in the stick.   Doing it once under an hour shouldn't be a problem.

 

Edit: I see Josh gave an answer while I was typing.

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IMO, it's one of the scariest things about the profession that bows and violins that come in for repair CAN become damaged.  As scary, is players who all of a sudden become very aware of problems that they never noticed before, and blame it on the repair person. (Ain't that human nature?   :) )  I've seen it and had it happen to me.  Lost a friend over a bow he wanted to sell.  I didn't touch the bow even to rehair it, and when it didn't sell and he got it back, it had the same bend it had always had, but NOW he sees it.

 

I bet others have worse horror stories.  And advice to avoid problems has probably been on more than one thread, but would be appreciated. 

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IMO, it's one of the scariest things about the profession that bows and violins that come in for repair CAN become damaged.  As scary, is players who all of a sudden become very aware of problems that they never noticed before, and blame it on the repair person. (Ain't that human nature?   :) )  I've seen it and had it happen to me.  Lost a friend over a bow he wanted to sell.  I didn't touch the bow even to rehair it, and when it didn't sell and he got it back, it had the same bend it had always had, but NOW he sees it.

 

I bet others have worse horror stories.  And advice to avoid problems has probably been on more than one thread, but would be appreciated. 

 

The best advice I could ever give regarding working on bows is to know your skills--and know your limitations. I see a lot of bows damaged by well-intentioned, but not-so-skilled repairmen. If something comes in and you are not comfortable with doing the work, refer it out.

With bows, every bow that comes in for work gets an inspection (usually taking no more than 20-30 seconds) that includes assessing any condition issues to the stick, the tip ivory, the grip, the frog, the eyelet, the screw holes, and making sure that removable parts like the ferrule and button look original. Before any heating of the stick for straightening or camber work, I always clean the stick first, and then inspect it under a good light, and then go to a dark closet with a hand held black light to inspect for any glue lines or finish irregularities that might illuminate a hidden repair.

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The best advice I could ever give regarding working on bows is to know your skills--and know your limitations. I see a lot of bows damaged by well-intentioned, but not-so-skilled repairmen. If something comes in and you are not comfortable with doing the work, refer it out.

With bows, every bow that comes in for work gets an inspection (usually taking no more than 20-30 seconds) that includes assessing any condition issues to the stick, the tip ivory, the grip, the frog, the eyelet, the screw holes, and making sure that removable parts like the ferrule and button look original. Before any heating of the stick for straightening or camber work, I always clean the stick first, and then inspect it under a good light, and then go to a dark closet with a hand held black light to inspect for any glue lines or finish irregularities that might illuminate a hidden repair.

 

Thanks for these great responses. Are there any great bow repairers working over 20 years who haven't broken a customer's bow?

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The inclusion of the ten john doe defendants suggests that the plaintiff believes that up to ten other people in the shop might be guilty in some fashion which suggests to me that the snapping was done outside of the view of the violinist.

 

Can a skilled bow repairer straiten a bow like this in under an hour?

You can find a outside view of this makers shop, and it's just a small residential address. I doubt that anyone works there but the defendent alone. ( Sometimes the internet reveals too much.)

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I have known the luthier in question personally for a number of years. In addition to restoring and repairing he does rehairs for many local musicians. He recently beautifully restored a Nurnberger for me. He's very meticulous and professional. Not only does he do excellent work but he also plays in local orchestras using one of his own well-made instruments. He also made his bow. There's no doubt in my mind he knows what he's doing and has a wealth of experience. If the plaintiff is going to attempt to prove otherwise he's going to have a very hard time.

I don't know the circumstances but IMHO the bow was probably already flawed as has been suggested in previous posts.

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In the late 1980's I had a client accuse me of doing a bad re-touching on the belly of his cello even though we had only worked on the back. Because it was a fine Italian instrument Neil Erzt, who was sharing my workshop at the time had photographed the cello. This simple act prevented a law suite and caused me to change my procedures. Even with suitable insurance law suites can be devastating. Fortunately I have never been subjected to such an action thanks to Neil and his camera. As for working in front of a client, I don't recommend it. I do this occasionally, but my experience is that clients can easily become nervous and this can be very distracting. As for the time factor I have no problem with such work being carried out in under an hour. I watched the Hill bow makers doing this every day.

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