The plumber broke what the plumber is fixing
September 14, 2009 9:20 AM   Subscribe

If the plumber comes and causes more damage, can we be expected to pay for it?

In Washington, DC. We had a plugged kitchen sink. We called a plumber, who while snaking it out broke through a bend in the pipe. Now we have a clog and a hole in a pipe that requires repair by cutting through the bathroom ceiling below to replace the pipe. We need it fixed today, since we use the kitchen for useful things like eating. I checked but our home owners insurance doesn't cover this.

We were quoted an hourly rate for the work they are doing. When the plumber left to get parts he was gone an hour because he drove to Silver Spring to get parts where they had an account, instead of the hardware store two blocks away. So now our $150 snake job is apparently turning into a $1000 repair.

What options do we have? It seems unfair for us to cover the whole cost of the damage they created (otherwise they could always purposefully cause damage to make more work for themselves), plus the time they spent driving around. We have nothing in writing.

Any suggestions?
posted by procrastination to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's sounds like to me that if a snake could break your pipe, then it needed to be replaced anyway because it was rusted, degraded, etc. That really isn't the plumbers fault... it's just another problem that was found by trying to fix the first. Now whether or not he is charging you fairly is another issue. If you are deadset on getting it fixed today, then that's what you will pay. Personally, I would make due for another day or two, and get some quotes from other plumbers.
posted by kimdog at 9:45 AM on September 14, 2009

Did he cause the damage (incompetence), or was the damage already done (rusty pipe or similar) and he just happened to be the person who forced the snake through? That would be the difference to me. I wouldn't pay for driving around time either way, pay for time on site only.

Did you shop around for prices on the snake job? It may be too late I realise, but call another plumbing firm, explain the situation, tell them you think you're being quoted too high and ask them if they can give you a worst case price on the phone. This worked for me recently on a broken sewer line. The plumber who came out quoted $6000, the guy I called said he'd do it for no more than $3000 from my description and ended up doing it for $2000 when he came out. I'm in a different labor market, but that involved breaking up my concrete patio, digging down to about 2 foot, replacing 10 foot of piping and restoring everything, so $1000 seems high for your job.
posted by IanMorr at 9:47 AM on September 14, 2009

If you have nothing in writing, not even an initial estimate I would suggest living without the sink for a day or two and get written estimates from other plumbers to repair number 1's work, you can let number 1 bid on the job but make sure it's all written down this time.

The plumber doesn't own the house, he can take it or leave it, it's just work for him. It's your property so at the end of the day you're the one motivated to get it fixed. I would tell the plumber that you're not willing to pay for his travel to and from his selected vendor without understanding what costs that would be, I'm assuming you told the plumber to fix the problem they caused and now are getting sort of surprised at how much it will cost.

I say pay the guy for snaking the drain, tell him he's free to bid on the repair work but you'll be getting written estimates (parts and labor) for the repairs at this point from multiple sources.

I would also check his license standing and trade insurance standing for good measure while you're at it to make sure both are in order before you let him bid.
posted by iamabot at 9:48 AM on September 14, 2009

Best answer: Emergency work is always going to be more expensive. Setting aside any fault, the plumber has to skip his other appointments to repair the drain that was damaged.

Driving to Silver Spring is normal too. Otherwise he'd have to 1.) pay retail and 2.) out of his own pocket for the parts. Plumbers don't get expense accounts.

It is possible to damage a drain with a snake, but it's impossible to say whether it's his negligence or your faulty pipe without seeing the damaged area.

Call his manager and negotiate. The guy on site has no power to negotiate the price, unless it's a one man operation. The price is likely for removal of the ceiling, replacement of the pipe and restoration of the drywall in the bathroom. The general rule is to never let a plumber do the drywall.
posted by electroboy at 10:26 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

All good advice above and I don't really have knowledge of the nuts and bolts of these things, but I'm not sure you should have to pay for travel time for him to go get parts from his special supplier.
posted by rhizome at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2009

Just a data point - we had to have a broken pipe repaired which involved jack-hammer through the kitchen floor and dig a 3-foot hole to access the underground pipes. Before they started, I asked how they knew where to dig and they replied that the first team who did a video survey of the pipes had left them instructions.

They dug in the wrong place and had to dig another hole in the floor. They charged us for the labor to dig both holes and the concrete to fill them both back in, but since the insurance company was paying the repairs, I didn't fight it.
posted by CathyG at 11:54 AM on September 14, 2009

We had a similar situation, but the plumber warned us before that it was possible that the snake would puncture the soft and old lead drain line. I thought I was screwed, and that homeowner's wouldn't pay. We used a public adjuster to negotiate with the insurance company. They get paid a percentage of what they help you recover, but it certainly softened the blow. Our rates did not go up.
posted by fixedgear at 2:52 PM on September 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. The pipe was PVC and after looking at it, it just seemed to be bad luck it broke out. He cut at the joint that broke out and then tried to snake from there, but it was packed up so we ended up cutting the whole pipe out and replacing it, though I went out an bought the pipe instead of him driving around on the clock again. We called and talked to the manager to discuss the billing and seem to have come to a resolution.

Also, we learned NOT to put potato peels down the disposal. It was an expensive lesson, so I hope I save you the same trouble.
posted by procrastination at 5:28 PM on September 14, 2009

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