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9 July 2021

Retailer responsible for leaky dishwasher damage

Kitchen Things told to cough up after $4000 dishwasher damages wooden floor.

Appliance retailer Kitchen Things NZ has been ordered to pay $1400 after a dishwasher the store sold developed a leak and damaged a customer’s timber floor.

Consumer NZ member Helen Cummings took Kitchen Things to the Disputes Tribunal to get back the $1400 excess she had to pay after she claimed on her insurance for the cost of repairing the floor.

Helen bought the $4000 Miele dishwasher from Kitchen Things in 2014 and had it installed by her builder in 2016. Four years later, she discovered the dishwasher was leaking.

A technician sent by Miele found a seal had become twisted or pinched, causing the machine to leak. Miele paid to replace the seal and Helen’s insurer agreed to cover the cost of repairing the floor. However, Helen was left with a $1400 bill for the insurance excess.

When Kitchen Things declined to reimburse her for the excess, Helen contacted our advice line. She was talked through her rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) by our adviser Maggie Edwards, who encouraged Helen to take the case to the tribunal.

“Maggie was good and gave me some sound advice,” Helen said.

Company’s argument rejected

At the hearing in June, Kitchen Things accepted the leaking had resulted from a twisted seal but denied this was a fault with the dishwasher.

The company produced a letter from its service manager who said pinching of a seal could occur if something was caught between the seal and the door or if built-up residue caused the seal to stick to the door.

Kitchen Things considered that if the seal had been faulty from the outset, the machine wouldn’t have worked for the four years it did.

However, the tribunal referee rejected Kitchen Things’ arguments.

“In my view, a reasonable consumer (through whose eyes this matter must be viewed) would not expect that all seals in a dishwasher would necessarily last for the entire lifetime of the machine … However, I accept that this dishwasher was a relatively expensive model and that a reasonable consumer would not expect that a seal would fail after four years of normal use,” she said.

The scenarios offered by Kitchen Things to explain how the seal could have been damaged would constitute “normal” use and there was no evidence Helen had caused the damage, the referee said.

“In my view, a seal in a dishwasher such as this one, having regard to its price, its age and the use to which it was put, should have been robust enough not to have failed in this way.”

The referee found the dishwasher wasn’t of acceptable quality and the damage to the floor was “reasonably foreseeable” as a result of the machine’s failure. Helen was therefore entitled to compensation for the insurance excess she’d paid.

The referee also pointed out Helen wasn’t obliged to have insurance or claim from her insurer. “The fact that she was insured, and her insurer covered part of her loss was nothing to do with [Kitchen Things], except that it has, in this case, reduced the sum that [the company] would otherwise have had to pay by way of compensation.”

Helen said it had been a simple process to go to the Disputes Tribunal and urged others not to be put off making a claim.

“It sounds like you’re going to court but it was quite an easy process,” she said.

Her only regret was making an insurance claim, as she now realises she had grounds for a claim against Kitchen Things for the full cost of repairing the floor.

Legal points

The CGA requires products to be of acceptable quality. When an item doesn’t measure up, the retailer has an obligation to repair or replace it, or provide a refund.

The act also gives you the right to compensation for any reasonably foreseeable losses resulting from a product’s failure. So if a leaking dishwasher damages your kitchen floor, you can ask the retailer to pay for the cost of repairing the floor.

How do I get help? 

As a Consumer NZ member, Helen was able to access our Consumer Advice Line. If you’re a member and have a faulty product, received shoddy service or been misled by a retailer, you can contact one of our advisers for help.  

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