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Customer gets bill after explosion

Consumer member Carlene Perris employed a floor company to sand and re-coat the wooden floors of her Auckland home in October 2014. Unfortunately, the company’s labourer didn’t spot a gas fire in the living/dining area. Midway through the job, the fire’s pilot light ignited the vapours from the polyurethane coating. BOOM!

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The labourer made it out OK. But the explosion damaged the living/dining area and left soot stains in the laundry, bathroom and hallway. Carlene’s insurer covered the damage as well as the cost of temporary accommodation.

However, Carlene received a shock when she moved back into her house after four months. The floor sanding company sent a $2300 bill for the work done before the explosion. Carlene didn’t pay the invoice because she assumed it had been sent in error. Surely the company wouldn’t bill her after causing so much damage?

But an account overdue notice arrived about two months later. Carlene emailed the company and refused to pay the invoice.

The company’s director told us he was following his insurer’s advice to recoup costs from the customer for the work done and believes his company wasn’t responsible for the explosion. “We take every care and precaution that’s possible”, he said. According to the director, the gas fire was overlooked because it was obscured by a flattened cardboard box. The box had been set aside by Carlene while she was packing up her belongings.

The fire investigator appointed by Carlene’s insurer came to a different view, concluding the company hadn’t taken the necessary precautions to ensure “all potential ignition sources had been eliminated in the work environment.”

We say

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, tradespeople must carry out their services with reasonable care and skill. If a minor problem occurs, the customer must give the tradesperson a chance to put things right. But if a serious problem occurs, the customer can cancel the contract and refuse to pay for the work.

We think the company’s labourer should’ve thoroughly checked Carlene’s home for potential ignition sources including pilot lights and electrical equipment. To us, that seems like “reasonable care” when dealing with highly flammable substances.