The Law: In from the Cold

When Luther and Ida Aguchak failed to make payments on their new snowmobile and freezer, Montgomery Ward went into small-claims court in Anchorage, Alaska. A summons was issued and mailed to the Aguchaks, who live in a remote Eskimo village 500 miles away. Though they received the notice, the Aguchaks had neither the time nor money to make the $186 overnight air trip that was necessary to get to court. When they failed to appear to answer the summons, a default judgment was entered against them, and that seemed to be that.

Not quite. On the advice of a Legal Services lawyer,...