How much should trauma scene cleanup cost? Is my dad getting ripped off?
August 22, 2013 5:20 PM   Subscribe

A trauma scene cleanup company is quoting my dad $2100 for materials and 20 hours of labor to clean up the biohazardous material in the tiny bathroom my uncle died in. Is this a reasonable estimate of labor?

My uncle died in the shower in the small bathroom in his studio apartment. We think he had a heart attack. His body was there, under running water, for 12 days before it was found. Because of decomposition, there is some skin and a lot of blood in the bathroom. The bathroom is all tile, no porous materials other than towels, bathmat etc.

This company quoted us about $2100 for the cleanup. They are charging for materials, but most of this cost comes from labor. Their rate is about $75 an hour, which seems reasonable I guess, given the nature of the work. However, their quoted 20 hours of labor seems like a lot to me. It is a very small room, with not a lot of porous material that needs to be removed. I understand that this is biohazardous material and their process involves more than a wipe-down with some clorox, but should it really take 20 hours? Are they padding their labor estimate?

I don't know anything about this kind of cleanup, maybe this is standard. But I don't want my dad to get ripped off while he's stressed and grieving.
posted by efsrous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it's a crew of 2-3 people?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:24 PM on August 22, 2013

Response by poster: Clarification on their labor quote: they said it was for 2 people working 10 hours each, at $79.21 and hour.
posted by efsrous at 5:27 PM on August 22, 2013

That sounds inexpensive. Sorta.

Call and ask them EXACTLY what takes 10 hrs about the job. Are they taking apart the pipes? Repainting??

Get an exact breakdown.
posted by jbenben at 5:37 PM on August 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss and the horrendous circumstances.

Having done similar work, I think that this is a reasonable price. Maybe even cheap.

These guys are going be geared up and carry various certifications. They will also have to pay whatever fees are required to properly dispose of biohazardous material in your area. Depending on the plumbing there may also be issues with traps and such further down the line. The labor doesn't end once the bathroom is clean.

One thing worth a thought: since it's a rental and your uncle won't be living there any longer, I would think that the property owners wishes would be a factor. Maybe its time for some new tile and a shower enclosure?
posted by cedar at 5:37 PM on August 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

$2100 to clean up after someone who's been dead for 12 days sounds cheap to me, not that I've ever priced anything like that. But I mean, I've paid more to fix the suspension on my car.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 5:47 PM on August 22, 2013 [13 favorites]

Even if tile wouldn't absorb anything, the grout between those tile certainly could. Plus, yeah, plumbing traps and drains and suchlike.

Condolences to you and your family.
posted by easily confused at 5:47 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a general observation about contractors, they could very well be padding their hours, though not necessarily for nefarious reasons. It's easier to guess high and come in under than it is to explain to the customer that the bill has doubled because of labor.
posted by teremala at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Does your Dad have to be responsible for this? I don't mean to sound awful, but since it's a rental, maybe you guys can just walk away from this situation, and your uncle's estate would forfeit their security deposit (presumably) and the landlord will just have to deal with it?
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:58 PM on August 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

I am not an expert, but from what I understand about services like these, they may well have to take apart the entire bathroom down to the studs. $2100 seems reasonable under those circumstances.
posted by KathrynT at 6:03 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why not get one or two more quotes? I've been hiring a bunch of contractors lately (although not this particular kind), and I get three quotes for everything. It's not unusual for the high quote to be 250% of the low quote for the exact same job. Either you'll find a lower price or you'll be reassured that you're paying market rate.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:22 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm kind of surprised you are facing this expense, unless the studio apartment is very privately owned, and not insured by the owner. This is one of those things that landlords have specific insurance for, as in spelled out in infinite grotesque detail by the insurance company.

Did they approach your dad about having to pay for this, or is he taking it upon himself? Usually (not always) the lease will specify that you cannot do something like this on your own without the landlord's permission and a signature to that effect.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:48 PM on August 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

I must be having a reading comprehension fail. Where are people getting that it's a rental?
posted by Salamander at 6:52 PM on August 22, 2013

Best answer: First, I'm really sorry you're dealing with this. Send a big hug to your dad for me.

Next, check if your uncle had renters insurance. That might cover this. Next get ahold of the landlords insurance. For obvious reasons he'd rather not make a claim. Maybe his deductible is higher than this would cost. Maybe he doesn't want his premium to go up. Whatever, you're not here to protect the landlord. Your job is to protect your dad and your uncles estate from unnecessary bologna. If he wasn't a renter look at the homeowners insurance. They already know he's dead.

The number doesn't sound unreasonable to me, except maybe lower than I'd have guessed. What I don't like is that there's no accounting for the various steps in the process. Which parts take how much time. How is the scene treated/handled at each step. Is it sealed off from the home? How is the water damage dried? Are your cleaners licensed or minimally trained or....trained at all? or just the guy who drops them off each morning? (not even kidding about unattended untrained crews mediating water damage. That was a miserable experience with no death involved...)


These are the things that come to my mind, I'm sure there's more to be done.

I like advice to get multiple estimates. 3 sounds good, but 5 is better. 5 makes it really obvious who the shady fly by night guy is, and who is the overpriced smooth talker. The three in the middle give you room to choose one with a good price that you trust.

And remember, the lowest bidder comes in low for a reason, but check insurance, yelp, Annie's List, and BBB before you sign any contract or even make verbal agreements.

And read the contract. How will disputes be settled?
posted by bilabial at 6:54 PM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

In some places apartment=rental and apartment that the tenant owns=condo. In this case it is unclear but that might explain the assumptions that other posters are making.
posted by greta simone at 7:36 PM on August 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have no idea, but what is really the alternative? It's not as if you could say "Hmph, I'll do it myself." I am sorry for your loss, but this sounds horribly disgusting. I'd probably just pay whatever it costs to have it cleaned properly. You can ask if that's how long it takes and try to haggle it down, but at the end of the day, you probably have to agree with whatever they claim they need.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:42 PM on August 22, 2013

An insurance company will have preferred contractors for work like this.
posted by annsunny at 7:59 PM on August 22, 2013

Yes can you clarify if this is a rental, OP? If your uncle was renting it would seem to be the owner's responsibility to pay for this. It's something to check into anyway.

Your dad is likely not in shape to be arguing with the owner, though, so maybe you could handle it.
posted by Justinian at 9:54 PM on August 22, 2013

no porous materials other than towels, bathmat etc.

The grout will be a pain to clean, and some of it might even need to be removed. I don't know why people seem to regularly think grout is non-porous. It's slightly less porous than wood or something, and if you left erm, juices, on it for 12 days it's gonna soak something up.

Is this quote just to remove the biohazardous stuff possibly leaving bits of the room ripped out, or to restore the room to the condition it was beforehand? because i could see there being some "rip shit out and replace" involved here that wasn't factored in first. And i could also see them running over this estimate fairly easily on that front.
posted by emptythought at 10:35 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

they said it was for 2 people working 10 hours each, at $79.21

Regardless of the per-hour cost, it is going to take two people more than 10 hours to restore a bathroom from the studs up.

You need to find out exactly what is involved in the cleanup process. You absolutely don't have to come at that in a confrontational way; you can simply say that you've never dealt with something like this before, and you need to know what each step of the process is, and what the contractor will be doing, vs what your responsibilities will be.

If the contractor isn't willing to explain that to you in writing, you should find another contractor.
posted by dubold at 1:51 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

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