Business & Real Estate

Faulty warranty leaves dealer, manufacturer in hot water

I heard from quite a few of you folks recently who appreciated the out-of-the-box(springs) thinking from my last column. So I dug a little deeper into the archives and found this backyard horror story.

The matter involves one of those super-duper deluxe hot tubs you can actually swim laps in, against the strong, forced current it produces. The consumer, Steve, paid a pretty penny for it. Within the first year, it sprang a few leaks, its jets malfunctioned and the filtration system went belly up. This trifecta of concerns provided a major headache.

Steve first experienced the problems in 2007 when the economy was booming. The dealer then came out regularly to fix the issue(s). When the economy fell off the cliff, the shop still sent repairmen out but insisted Steve pay $250 per visit. He reached out to the manufacturer for help, but he was stiff-armed. He then posted a series of videos about his ordeal on YouTube. The problems persisted for a few more years.

In 2010, the manufacturer agreed to look at the hot tub in its own factory, which meant hiring a crane to lift the tub and a truck to ship it. Steve was required to pay for this. Seeing no other option, he reluctantly agreed. Steve periodically checked in with them, and every few months they would tell him they were “working on it.” The tub never was fixed and never made its way back to the Peninsula.

From time to time, as one way of doing pro bono work, I will answer consumer protection legal questions posted online. This case was one of those times. Shortly after I gave some input, Steve reached out to my office regarding his ongoing nightmare. The crane Steve hired destroyed part of his backyard deck and fencing, not to mention the hole it left in his pocket.

Steve came to my office and we reviewed all of his concerns. I examined all of the relevant paperwork and YouTube videos, and I felt that he had purchased a “lemon” hot tub.

I wanted to go after the seller for charging money to come and work on the hot tub, but he was out of business. That left me with the manufacturer, who offered a warranty on the hot tub. In reviewing the warranty, I noticed, oddly, that it actually required consumers to pay for a technician to come work on the product – against California law. I further noticed that it also required consumers to foot the bill for a crane and for shipping, if the item needed to be shipped to the manufacturer for warranty repair. This, too, was against California law.

I explained to Steve that he had not only been sold an expensive outdoor wading pool, but he had also been cheated by the seller and the manufacturer. We filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer. The manufacturer’s in-house attorney called immediately to discuss the merits of the case. We negotiated full compensation for Steve, his broken fence and backyard, his out-of-pocket payments for warranty service, the crane and shipping and, of course, his attorney fees.

The manufacturer hopefully changed its warranty booklet and policies to comply with California law. Steve’s long nightmare was over, and I believe he may have joined the local Y.

Scott Kaufman is a consumer-protection attorney who founded California Lemon Lawyers in 2003. For more information, call (408) 727-8882 or visit his office at 140 Third St., Los Altos.

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