Your Break My Dryer. I Break Your Face.
July 5, 2012 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Contractor damaged my dryer while working on my house and now refuses to pay to repair it. What kind of leg, if any, do I have to stand on?

I recently had an "energy retrofit" on my teeny post-war house done by a local (Portland, OR) contractor as part of a program to increase energy efficiency in older homes. The whole house is now insulated (walls, floors, attic) and the gravity wall furnace was torn out and replaced by an attic furnace. Overall, I'm super jazzed.


While working on my house, the contractors had to pull my washer and dryer away from the wall in the mudroom to replace some drywall. The day before they did this, the dryer worked normally. The day after this, the dryer would not heat nor advance the timer. I asked the company about it, so they sent a project manager out to see if anything obvious was wrong. According to them t wasn't, so they shrugged and washed their hands of it.

A (dryerless!) month later, after replacing the timer but seeing no change in the problem, I tore the dryer apart and found that the coils of the heating element were severed. I replaced the part and the dryer now works. The dryer, it's worth mentioning, is only about five years old and is used once a week at most. I'm fastidious about keeping it clear of lint. It seemed pretty clear that it having been moved multiple times by the contractors was what broke it.

I wrote to the contracting company asking that they reimburse me for what, to me, seems like a clear case of them breaking my stuff. They wrote back saying that they will not be doing that since there is no clear proof that it wasn't just the dryer's heating element coincidentally breaking on its own. There's nothing in the contract I signed with them absolving them of liability for damage to my property, so this seems like them just being stingy.

Do I have a case to push back here? If so, is there an airtight case I can make?
posted by hollisimo to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you're out of luck on this one. Moving the dryer shouldn't have broken the heating coils. I think you had a bum dryer, not a bum contractor. Furthermore, the fact that you waited a month to fix it is all on you. The fact that you fixed it wrong the first time is also on you.

posted by jon1270 at 2:46 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Assuming it's a few hundred bucks, it seems like a clear-cut case for small claims court, but it's going to be your word against the contractor's. The problem is that you'll have to pay filing costs, which can be a couple hundred bucks, and I believe in most states you won't get that back even if you win. How much are we talking about here?
posted by kindall at 2:48 PM on July 5, 2012

jon1270: I didn't wait a month. It took me a month to troubleshoot it and finally figure out what was wrong. I contacted the contractor the day it stopped working.

We're not talking about much money, but I don't make much money. It seems like a crappy way to do business to break someone's stuff and then refuse to take responsibility.
posted by hollisimo at 2:50 PM on July 5, 2012

How would they have severed the coils if it took you tearing the dryer apart to find this out? Would simply moving the dryer have caused this? If so, what's to say that anyone moving the dryer for any reason could have caused this eventually?

It's a tough thing to prove, I think. I had a similar case involving a repair to a button on the dash of my car which was damaged after an inspection. Clearly, the guy toggled a switch and the switch broke. However, would it have broken the next time I toggled the switch? Maybe. I paid for the replacement myself. Though initially, I did talk to them about it with the aims of having them pay to repair it. On second thought, I didn't think it was their responsibility even though it was their act that ultimately broke the toggle.

The question comes down to, was undue care used in the course of normal work? For this instance, since they are pushing back, and I can't see an obvious line of fault in your explanation, you may have to just take this one on the chin. Pursuing it, seems to me, far costlier than your replacement.
posted by amanda at 2:52 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

...a program to increase energy efficiency in older homes.

Under the aegis of your utility, I'd guess, which provides a list of approved contractors, perhaps.

If so, threaten to ask your utility to strike them off the list of approved contractors if they don't give you the money. That'll put fear into their hearts if anything will.
posted by jamjam at 2:59 PM on July 5, 2012

I would contact the administrators of the program, and give them a detailed account of what happened, cc'd to the contractors. Also, use yelp to warn others.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 3:01 PM on July 5, 2012

Small claims, but get your ducks in a row for it. Can you talk to a dryer repair person and ask him/her about what type of abuse could result in the issue you had?
posted by BlueHorse at 4:28 PM on July 5, 2012

Did you pay for the contracting work using a credit card that lets you dispute charges for defective merchandise, etc? We once had a stunningly awful experience with Home Depot installing windows in our house. They stonewalled us relentlessly till the credit card company reversed our payment to them, then suddenly they were willing to fix their mistake.

One benefit of going this route is that it's easier than small claims court. If it works, great. If not, you have done your homework for small claims court. After you've written the letter to the credit card company you will have organized your evidence and arguments and are ready to file in court. Also, most people don't bother doing anything, so maybe you can get them to pay you to go away if you show you will be persistent. You're right, it sucks that they are doing this.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:22 PM on July 5, 2012

As others stated, simply moving the dryer shouldn't damage the unit. Dryers get moved around. That is normal. They get moved around in homes. They get moved around on the show floor, in trucks, in the factories, and more. It is highly unlikely that their actions caused any damage to your dryer. Even if it did, it shouldn't which would make the damage not their fault.
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:56 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seemed pretty clear that it having been moved multiple times by the contractors was what broke it.

I don't think you can know this, and I don't think you can prove it was the contractors moving the dryer that broke it. For the coil to be severed it had a minor fault in the first place. Over time the fault causes the element to corrode further in that spot until it breaks. This is the sort of thing that happens suddenly- one day your dryer just doesn't heat. It's possible that the movement caused the final break but the coil was already damaged for that to happen. It's also possible that it broke as it cooled right after the last time you used the dryer. There's no way to know exactly when it happened and I don't see how you could prove it in small claims.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:06 PM on July 5, 2012

Cause/effect. This is an overused line of reasoning.

Your leg is currently made of paper mache, and will support roughly 2 lbs.

If they moved the drier by picking it up, and slamming it into the ground repeatedly, I would ask them to pay for it. Otherwise, maintenance!
posted by Gravitus at 9:25 PM on July 5, 2012

In a situation like this, the homeowner needs to contact a repairman, get the thing repaired, and pay the bill. This gives him or her (1) the pricetag and (2) if needed, a low-level expert opinion on the cause.

When you do the work yourself, you have neither.
posted by megatherium at 4:42 AM on July 6, 2012

I think this is just one of those things.

I'm sure moving the dryer didn't help it any, but who's to say that the next time you moved it to clean lint out of it that the coil woudn't have broken?

Things happen when you have workmen in. There's a Russian proverb, "If you hate someone, send them painters."

It's annoying because it looks like cause and effect, but what if that part was going to break anyway? Five years on 'durable' goods these days is pretty good.

Take some deep breaths, and enjoy your insulated home.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:43 AM on July 6, 2012

As a former service person, there is a frustrating thing that happens sometimes where because you were the last person to touch something, you tend to get blamed for anything that happens after you touch it. In my case I was a computer tech (back when such things were done with nutdrivers and occasionally a soldering iron) and you'd get calls like "you fixed my computer and now my printer isn't working." even though in most cases the one had nothing to do with the other.

A dryer should be able to be moved without breaking it. Dryers are moved all the time. If the workers moved it with enough force to break it there would probably be physical evidence on the outside. A dent or scratches or something that says "this thing was moved with way too much force."

Most likely your dryer had a fault already, which may have not made itself apparent for a while, but then they moved it or jostled it and the weakness showed itself. The same thing might have happened if you moved it to clean behind it or the next time you slammed the door a bit too hard.

You might want to mention it in a Yelp review, though please judge them honestly on the quality of the work they did otherwise. As others have said, you might also want to pursue it with the utility they were hired through, if that is how they were hired.

This is frustrating for you because it cost you money to repair, but unless you witnessed them handling your dryer roughly or there is evidence that they did that, this is just something that happened. I'm not really sure you have a case worth pursuing.

Good for you for fixing it yourself though!
posted by bondcliff at 7:36 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

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