Franklin Durst has us wondering what can be done when a company that owes you something goes out of business. Last April, a heating and air contractor installed a new air conditioner at his house in Hanahan, SC. And while he didn’t expect the unit to stop working just one month later, he thought he was covered by the installer’s labor warranty.
As Durst tells me, when the air conditioner stopped working after a month, the HVAC contractor — a one-man operation — came back to diagnose the problem. The installer said he intended to contact the manufacturer about a fix, but that was the last time Durst heard from him.
Turns out he’d have a hard time getting the contractor to come back, but for a reason no one could have predicted. Durst’s case is a sobering reminder that your choice in contractors can be crucial, especially where warranties are concerned. If the company goes out of business or is no longer able to perform the work, the warranty you purchase may be worth less than the paper it’s printed on.
At my request, Durst provided his paper trail, including proof that the work was done and that he paid in full. When I researched the contractor, the first internet search result showed that he was reviewed on Angie’s List. Then, a little lower, I saw he had been featured in some local news stories, but not for doing good.
Quite to the contrary. The contractor isn’t making any service calls these days. Durst’s HVAC contractor currently resides at the Al Cannon Detention Center following a motor vehicle collision in October which took the life of a 9-year-old girl.
According to reports, the intoxicated contractor rear-ended a car and kept driving. After he hit a second vehicle, he still continued to drive when he hit a third car. Then, he proceeded off the interstate onto Cosgrove Avenue, where he hit a fourth vehicle head on. That car hit a fifth car and was occupied by a grandmother and two children, one of whom died from her injuries that evening. In addition to causing a fatality, the collision involved six vehicles and injured several others. The at-fault driver was charged with reckless homicide and three counts of felony DUI.
My heart sank.
Eventually, I shared the bad news with Durst. He understood that his contractor was unavailable for the foreseeable future, and that he may be out of luck on his warranty claim. But given how new the air conditioner was, I offered to contact the manufacturer to see if it might — under these unfortunate circumstances — do something to help.
I contacted the manufacturer, Gree, whose representative shared my sadness, and understood the predicament. Without making any guarantees, it pointed me to a local distribution company which, it suggested, might be able to help.
The distribution company doesn’t install or repair air conditioners, but it knows most of the contractors in the Charleston area who do. When I explained the reason for my call, the manager knew the contractor who installed Durst’s air conditioner and agreed that Durst — and by extension, I — was faced with quite the dilemma.
But then he told me two things that are false. He predicted that nobody would honor the contractor’s labor warranty — a statement that I proved false within an hour. He also said that the contractor in jail can’t honor his labor warranty, adding, “It’s not his fault he can’t do the work.”
Well, perhaps he didn’t mean to say what he did. Perhaps he meant to say, “If he could have a do-over and take back the poor choice he made that evening to get behind the wheel of his pickup truck after consuming alcohol, to endanger the lives of others and take the life of a child, he would do it in a heartbeat. And he would much rather be performing warranty work than passing time in a jail cell to work off a debt that can never be repaid.” That’s how I interpret what he said. But that’s not what he said.
And if you are like me, you know that every accident is preventable, including the one caused by this contractor. Drunk driving is a choice — a deadly one. And in addition to those whose lives are forever and irreversibly changed by his choices, there are also customers who are left high and dry.
I found a company which, under the circumstances, agreed to fix Durst’s air conditioner. In fact, it was the first company I called. The next business day, Prestige Heating and Air of Goose Creek, SC, got Durst back up and running, as a goodwill gesture. Both Durst and I are grateful for their generous offer to help, as it was under no obligation to do so.
Neither Durst nor his contractor knew that his warranty would be unusable — that the business would essentially shut down so soon after the installation took place. And unlike when a large business shuts its doors or files for bankruptcy, there is little that can be done to recover money invested in service plans and warranties.
Before you select a contractor, it might be worth asking whether any other contractors will honor his warranty in the unlikely event that he can’t do the work. There is little recourse for someone like Durst whose one-man operation suddenly goes kaput. It’s a conversation worth having — and a small lesson we can all learn from Durst’s unfortunate case.