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Someone Else’s Mistake

We’ve needed a new hot water heater for about two years.  We still had — albeit inconsistent — hot water, so it was difficult to muster up the energy to replace the heater.  But we finally hit our breaking point and ordered a new heater, even though I will sort of miss the daily family question asked after every shower: “Did you have hot water?”  Followed by one of two responses, “Oooh!  Lucky!” or “That sucks.”

We went with a big business rather than ordering the heater from a plumber; the thought being that if anything went wrong with the heater, we didn’t want to be dependent on a sole proprietor.

I laugh now at this mindset.

The heater came, a man installed it, and all seemed well.  We took showers and there was an abundance of hot water.  There was much happiness in the household.  It was nice to be warm.

A few days later, we did a load of laundry.  As we were getting ready for bed, Josh went to move it into the dryer, and I heard him yell, “SHIT!”  I ran to the laundry room to find it flooded with a half inch or so of water on the floor.  It had seeped out into the next room, soaking the carpet.  Everything on the floor that wasn’t made of plastic was ruined.  The flood had picked up the glue trap from behind the heater and cricket corpses were floating on top of the water as salt in the wound.

We spent an hour trying to soak up as much as possible.  What happened was that when the installer drained the old water heater, he used the washing machine’s drain.  But he failed to re-hook up the washing machine to the drain before he left, so when the laundry was going through the final cycle, all the water that was in the machine ended up on the floor.

Anger doesn’t really cover how I felt mopping the floor at 12:30 am.

We went to bed and dealt with the store in the morning.  They were apologetic and sent a company to clean up the mess.  There was $1400 in initial damage, and that doesn’t cover replacing things like the baseboards which were destroyed in the process.  We’ve had industrial fans running for days as well as a dehumidifier.  The clean up company is supposed to return to finish assessing the damage and work to put back together the laundry room again.

But here’s the thing: we had to front the money to pay the clean up company.  We’re supposed to get reimbursed by the big store and have that fact in writing.  But, of course, we can’t get a person to return a phone call nor tell us when we can expect payment.  Someone else’s mistake has become our headache, eating up work time and energy.  We can have our insurance cover the additional costs, but we would still have to pay the deductible, so in the end, we’re still paying for someone else’s mistake.

I can wrap my brain around needing to be responsible for my own mistakes.  When I cause a problem, I understand that I will have to deal with the consequences and pay the price, even if it was an accident.  That is life.  What I can’t accept is that because an installer made a mistake, we have to pay for the damages.  We have to deal with righting it.  We have to make phone call after phone call and front the money to fix it.

Humans make mistakes, it happens.  But businesses need to step in and fix mistakes in order to have any trust between consumer and provider.  And fixing that mistake means jumping in and doing everything possible so the weight doesn’t rest solely on the customer.

18 comments

1 Turia { 01.06.16 at 7:51 am }

Ooh Mel, I am so sorry you’ve had to deal with that. We had a flooded basement twice in the last three years (once our fault, once because of our neighbours) and the clean up is miserable.

My assvice: DO NOT claim it on your insurance. Not only will you have to pay the deductible, they will get back the money they had to pay you (and more) by raising your premiums. Plus, a lot of companies have a “three strikes and you’re out” policy, where if you make more than a certain number of claims in a certain number of years, they won’t renew your policy. And you are in big trouble if you have a rejected policy. And they treat any claim you make as though it were your fault, even if it wasn’t (so we couldn’t claim when our neighbours flooded our basement because that would have been our second strike). We learned all of this the hard way (we claimed the first flood on insurance) and have realized that house insurance is only for truly catastrophic incidents.

If the company has to pay you the money, just keep at them until they do. I’m sorry you have to do it and it really sucks. But please don’t bring your insurance company into the picture.

2 nonsequiturchica { 01.06.16 at 10:25 am }

Oh no that sucks! If the company doesn’t settle up soon there is always social media- yelp, BBB, facebook, twitter, etc. You can send lots of public messages to get them to pay up. Good luck!

3 Catwoman73 { 01.06.16 at 10:27 am }

Oh no! How awful! We’ve had similar experiences with big stores doing installations, because they often contract out the work, so it’s always tough to get someone to take responsibility. I’m with Turia though- avoid claiming it on insurance if you can. Good luck- I sincerely hope you get your money back in short order!

4 Working mom of 2 { 01.06.16 at 10:37 am }

That sucks. But I agree, why use insurance? Did they not agree to pay the full cost?

5 Mel { 01.06.16 at 10:41 am }

We’re not going to use insurance because it would simply become another place to call.

But stating that we’ll be reimbursed and actually getting reimbursed seem to be two different things. Ideally, the bills would go directly to the business. For instance, when we had the kitchen work done, the business we were paying contracted out the sink installation. They dealt with that company and all the bills for the work. We only dealt with the main business that we hired. So in the case of this damage, it would be nice if the store paid the bills rather than having us front the money and then claiming we’ll be reimbursed but not returning phone calls when we request reimbursement.

6 Working mom of 2 { 01.06.16 at 6:00 pm }

You might want to tell them in the next message that if they don’t return your call you may be forced to complain to Bbb or your attorney general (consumer protection). And then do so. Both Bbb and the ag will contact the business for “their side”.

7 deathstar { 01.06.16 at 12:11 pm }

Is there a local news program that handles consumer affairs for people? Contact the news, they may be interested especially if it’s a well known company. And let the heating company know about it. You’d be surprised by how fast they return your phone calls then. Or if you don’t want to do that, write a letter/email to the president, CEO and operations manager of the company, mark it private and confidential so one of the assistants doesn’t weed it out first and see if that works.

8 Mel { 01.06.16 at 1:56 pm }

Oooh, that is sneaky brilliant, Deathstar.

9 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.06.16 at 4:16 pm }

Agree with deathstar. This is not right, and someone else should make this right.

I had a milder but similar situation last week. I left a message noting that I’d chosen this serviceperson because he seemed to have great reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List, and I could tell he really valued his reputation. I avoided mentioning the consequence if he didn’t make good with me, but I suppose he got my point because guess what. He made good.

I think big companies also want to protect their reputation. You show remarkable restraint here by not naming them (I know how you feel about that).

10 Arnebya { 01.06.16 at 4:46 pm }

Oh, this incenses me. I agree that humans make mistakes, sure, but I also agree that this error was not yours; you should not be responsible for paying anything out of pocket in relation to the error that was not yours (I know this is just repeating what you’ve already said, but UGH I’m so angry for you). And? I’m glad you were ABLE to front the money. One of my greatest home-owning fears is that we’ll be hit with some huge bill that we simply cannot pay, especially up front, in order to receive a service. And then what? Leave the floor wet? It sucks.

11 a { 01.06.16 at 4:59 pm }

Actually, I probably would have called your insurance company first – we had a plumber who installed our dishwasher incorrectly so that there was a leak for 6 months onto our hardwood floors before we noticed it. The plumber swore he was going to have someone come out and fix the floor and he didn’t want us to report it to our insurance because they would go through his insurance and it would cost him more money. But after a few days of no response, we reported it to the insurance…and the next thing you know, we had our reimbursements. Either way, it’s incredibly annoying that you have to deal with this. I hope you get your money back soon, plus some for the irritation.

12 Charlotte { 01.06.16 at 6:46 pm }

Oh, this sucks. So sorry you are dealing with it. You are better than me, no way I would pay any money out of pocket…I would demand they handle it. Everyone has a boss, and I would keep going up the ladder until someone listened.

13 Katherine A { 01.06.16 at 6:47 pm }

What a frustrating situation! Hope that the company makes good on this and quickly. Ugh, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with it. Like you say, it shouldn’t be your problem at all.

14 Charlotte { 01.06.16 at 6:51 pm }

Oh and most large companies have insurance people to handle claims…years ago a big box store was delivering sone appliance, and the delivery guys broke a section of our fence and gate. When we called to complain the company sent an insurance adjuster over to do an estimate and arrange to have it fixed. We had a choice of a check and do the work ourselves or to have them contract it out.

15 loribeth { 01.06.16 at 8:23 pm }

Oh, UGH. :p For both the mess and the poor service. Keep hounding them. You deserve to have this fixed, pronto, on their dime.

16 Cristy { 01.06.16 at 8:43 pm }

I’m so angry to hear you’re having to deal with this Mel. It’s one thing to make a mistake. It’s entirely another to have them play games with you about getting it fixed.

I agree about going to the news or following up with the attorney general. Despite the initial pain, I would also contact your insurance company. It would be one thing if you were asking them to cover damage, but this is someone they can go after (and a company with deep pockets), so they may come through for you in the end. Either way, this just positively sucks and I’m so sorry.

17 Tess { 01.07.16 at 5:08 pm }

Two months ago, I purchased a dryer from Sears. When their delivery men were pushing it into place, it exploded. Miraculously, no one was injured, and I was able to put out the subsequent fire quickly with our household fire extinguisher. Still, fire damage is insidious. We lived in a hotel for a week during the clean up, and the reconstruction is ongoing.

Trying to deal with Sears was absurdity after absurdity. That first week, I spent hours on the phone where representatives with heavy accents would, for example, put me on hold for tens of minutes before cutting me off. They gave me no choice but to work directly with my homeowners insurance company. Working with my insurance has given me such relief. They took charge of the clean up, and quickly sent me a check once I submitted estimates for reconstruction. When the damage is clearly someone else’s fault, the insurance company seems motivated to keep me a happy customer. And I’m happy to leave the subrogation process to their legal department rather than spend my time on hold in India. Don’t be scared to call your insurance company, especially when it’s not your fault. You hired them because they’re experts in this kind of thing.

18 Heather { 01.08.16 at 12:58 am }

I am really sorry! I hope you get your money out of them!

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