DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) - Beatrice Etienne of Dayton was so pleased with her updated shower that she talked her partner of 29 years into having work done on his bathroom. She was worried about him falling.
Etienne told 2 NEWS Investigates, "He was having some issues getting in and out of the bathtub and definite health issues so that is why we decided to go ahead and remodel that bathroom."
But neither Beatrice Etienne nor Vate Jackson knew just how serious his health issues were. In the summer of 2011 Jackson was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Days later he died.
Two months before that, Jackson signed this contract with Bath Fitter in Dayton. He paid a $2,000 deposit.
The work was never done.
Etienne told 2 NEWS Investigates her son called the salesman from Bath Fitter the day after Jackson died to cancel the job. The call is noted in handwriting on the contract.
Etienne's attorney David Haffey followed up with a letter nearly a year later telling the salesman, "Mr. Jackson's estate is entitled to full repayment of such amount," that being $2,000. At the time of the letter, Etienne had been named the Executrix of the Estate, giving her the authority to attempt to take back the original deposit. But initially there was no refund on the way.
Etienne said she was ready to give up, but she would feel his presence, "don't you dare."
The work was to be done where Vate Jackson was living in Dayton. Bath Fitter said it was willing to go ahead at the original price and do a job on the bathroom that would make the house more attractive for sale, but Beatrice Etienne wasn't interested.
She said they had already put on a new roof and new aluminum siding. She was selling it "as is."
At the end of November 2012, Etienne contacted us for help and copied the Better Business Bureau. In December 2 NEWS Investigates called Bath Fitter and heard back from Jason Haught, the president. Haught told 2 NEWS Investigates he was not aware of the letter sent in June to his salesman, but he would review Jackson's order.
As a result he sent a letter to Etienne and copied us. He offered her a return check for $397.50 "due to the unique circumstance surrounding this order." The approximately $1600 the company planned to keep were for the "actual hard cost" like materials specific to the job. He reiterated Bath Fitter's offer to reinstate the order and honor 2011 prices. The BBB was also copied on this letter.
BBB President and CEO John North called this a rather unique situation. He was aware of the situation, but at the time of the interview Etienne had not yet filed a formal complaint with the BBB. She ended up doing so.
According to the dayton.bbb.org Bath Fitter is a BBB accredited business with an A-plus rating with only one complaint before Etienne's in three years.
North said to 2 NEWS Investigates, "Certainly her having power of attorney and the executrix of the estate helps her situation to be able to work with the company, the Better Business Bureau, with your organization to get some sort of resolution but ultimately it comes back to that contract."
And that's what it does come back to, the contract. Ohio law allows you three business days to cancel a sale made in your home. Harry Gerla, contract law professor, told 2 NEWS Investigates, "It's the exceptional case where death relieves a party of a contractual obligation."
A day before this story was to air, Haught agreed to an interview and said he would be sending Etienne a full refund of $2,000 and that's not all.
Haught told 2 NEWS Investigates, "We're going to draft an internal company policy that defines when there's a death prior to an installation of our products, that certainly as the president I'm notified, and that when the client has expressed financial hardship and this member is living in that household we're going to refund deposits, and we feel that could be industry leading, and it is a good decision for Bath Fitter locally."
When asked about making the policy change now Haught responded, "I think anytime you have an opportunity to learn from situations, learn from specific unique situations, that new policy can develop."
Jason Haught is the President of Bath Fitter in three states. This new policy impacts his operations, but he's already suggested it to others who have Bath Fitter locations throughout North America.
2 NEWS Investigates suggests before you sign a contract research Ohio consumer laws. For instance, in Ohio if a business accepts money from a consumer for goods and delivers nothing in eight weeks that person could be entitled to a full refund.
Also, you can ask for your contract to include a clause that addresses death and other tragic events.
If you use a credit card to make a deposit, it gives you a little more muscle to dispute charges than if you pay cash or by check.
You can take a contract dispute to small claims court and the BBB offers mediation and arbitration for a fee if you need help to resolve a dispute. To file a complaint, however, is free.
following links should help you better understand your rights as a consumer:
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