On the Soapbox:

Buyer Beware

by Lynda Lambert
In late October of last year, my daughter and I moved--she to her new house; I, to mine.

To make it easier and cheaper, we moved on the same day. We were moving, you see, only about a mile apart in the same neighborhood: Hampden. Because we were moving to Hampden and because I'd used a certain local moving company in the past, we decided to hire them to move us.

When the man on the phone told me that his company was now owned by a big conglomerate, I hesitated a little bit, but asked him over for an estimate in any case. His estimate was good, $1,100 to move us both, as long as we moved on the same day and used only one truck.

I asked him about insurance, because the insurance area on the contract said that nothing would be covered unless we had insurance. He said, "No," that wasn't so, that they didn't "go by that anymore." He said that the "only thing" the mover's insurance covered was boxes that the movers packed themselves.

I asked, "But what about everything else?"

"Oh, that's covered in any case by us. You don't have to insure it," he replied. I thought, "Okay."

So I didn't buy insurance, because we were packing all our boxes ourselves, and, according to him, the furniture and appliances and everything else was already covered. On the day of the move, the men were trying to hurry, cursing their estimator all the while, I suspect.

It was taking them longer than they'd expected and I've got to say that they gave me heart failure with the way they were stacking up three boxes at a time marked "fragile" and carrying them with one strap across their backs.

But they didn't drop any boxes. What they did drop was the washing machine that was headed for my daughter's house. It was only two months old. In an effort to hurry, I suppose, the mover had simply balanced the washer on a hand cart; he had not secured it with a strap. When he was within a foot of the truck opening, it tilted and fell five feet to the street, smashing in the top of it. I saw it go and the man must have thought I'd swallowed my tongue. Before I could speak, he said, "Don't worry, we'll take care of it. They'll replace it or they'll repair it, but don't worry."

Okay, okay. I wouldn't worry.

When it was all over, I was required to sign a paper that said we'd gotten everything in good order. I reminded the movers of the washer and they told me that that was "different," that all we had to do was put in a claim form.

The next week, we put in a claim form. More than a month later, we were sent a letter saying they wouldn't pay because we hadn't bought insurance. We called back and forth; we sent additional letters of explanation and, finally, the manager said that he would pay us $100 in damages if we would get him a letter by Friday accepting the offer. (This was Tuesday.) I talked with my daughter and we decided to accept it; perhaps it would at least pay for a repair call. I sent a certified letter directly to the manager.

Two months later, when I was beginning to wonder why it was taking so long to get us a simple $100 check, the post office returned the certified letter to me with "refused" marked on the envelope. I sent another letter, regular mail, with a copy of the dated envelope and the other letter to the manager, but we've heard nothing. I could sue, but I don't really have time or money.

Still, it seems a simple case: The salesman, either by mistake or on purpose, misrepresented the insurance factor and the company's responsibilities. The mover was negligent in not strapping down the washer; and again misrepresented what the company would do. The manager was uncooperative--but I guess that part's not against the law. Still, it seems to me that the other factors constitute an arguable case.

But, then, I am at fault, as well. I should have allowed my instincts to rule. I should have taken into account that I was no longer dealing with an old, family-owned company. Caveat Emptor.

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This story was published on July 3, 2002.