We paid home movers $11,000 and they damaged an irreplaceable table. What can we do? | Consumer affairs
We paid home movers $11,000+ to move our belongings from Cairns to the Gold Coast. Some items arrived damaged, including a beautiful dining table made by my retired cabinetmaker husband. It had been so poorly packed and transported, two table legs snapped.
We contacted the company the day it was delivered and all they have done is send us insurance claim forms. No apology. I asked for a discount on the moving fee which they ignored. Claiming on insurance is a waste of time, as my husband will have to repair the table himself. He’s devastated, I’m furious. How can we get them to a) acknowledge they did not fulfil their obligations and b) make things right?
– Alison, Queensland
I think the first thing you need to decide is what it would take to “make things right” for you. From the information you’ve given, I think there are two elements to restoring balance to your universe. The first is the moving company acknowledging their error and paying restitution in the form of a discount on the service they did not adequately deliver.
The second – hear me out – is the insurance claim. Even though your husband will have to fix the table himself, this will take time, resources, and as you’ve noted, emotional energy. All of these are worth something.
I hope you have images that document the damage to your items well. It will be even better if you have photos of the items before they were moved, and the way they were packed by the removalists. Without the latter two, you still have a pathway to remedy, but these would ultimately make your case even stronger.
Under the Australian Consumer Law, you have rights known as “consumer guarantees”, which I’ve written about before. Consumer guarantees apply to both products and services. For the latter, your right is to a service you have purchased being delivered with due care and skill.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) defines the acceptable level of care and skill as: “At least as good as what a competent service provider with average skills and experience would provide. [Service providers] must also take reasonable steps to avoid causing loss or damage when providing the service.”
Most people would think it was fair to expect that a moving company charging significant fees would move a customer’s personal items carefully, safely and in a way that is designed to minimise the risk of damage. It seems that in your case the removalists did not apply this level of care and skill to the service they provided, and may have breached the consumer guarantee owed to you in the process.
In terms of next steps, if I were you the first thing I would do is put all of this in writing to the moving company. I would make it clear that you are going to submit an insurance claim to cover the costs of fixing your damaged items, and state that you would also like a discount on the moving services, which were not delivered to the standard you would reasonably expect.
Tell them that the consumer guarantees entitle you to compensation when you have suffered a loss due to the actions of a business in the provision of a service.
Articulate how much of a refund you think you are owed. This doesn’t only have to be based on the physical damage to your property – it can also include the time you’ve lost because of the problem. The ACCC says: “Compensation should put the consumer back in the position they would have been in if the problem hadn’t happened.”
In your case, you could include the reasonable time it would take to dispose of and replace damaged items that can’t be repaired, and the cost of doing so (for instance, hauling something to a tip, paying to dispose of the damaged item, the cost of the new item plus the fuel and parking that went into collecting it). Or in the case of the table, the cost of repairing the item (which I would base on the reasonable time it would take a tradesperson – your husband in this case – to do the repairs). You can also include the time it has taken for you to manage correspondence on the matter. Think of all the time you spend as time you didn’t spend doing something else. So if you spent one hour of your work day managing the problem in any capacity, then you could ask to be compensated an hour of your wage.
If you still can’t get any traction with the company, talk to the consumer representative body in your jurisdiction for further advice. You might want to proceed with legal action if the advice you get makes you think that step is worth it, although having a consumer body supporting you might already be enough to get the moving company to admit fault.
The second thing I would do is be that person and leave your mark online. A negative Google review can go a long way to getting a business’s attention.
Finally, fill out those insurance claim forms and get your items and table fixed. Claim the cost of the materials and time needed to fix it. Ultimately, having your beloved table restored to its former glory is going to be the thing that makes you feel the most whole again.
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