THE CONSUMER CONNECTION
Read the fine print before buying
Ask David Horowitz
Iam amazed that so many of us feel we Why? It can’t rent the room that day to some-are being ripped off in the marketplace, one else who will pay for the labor, food, bev-when in fact we don’t take the time to erages and other services.
read the fine print to protect ourselves or The woman never specified what “last
to find an alternative way to ensure our con- minute” meant, so I suggested that if she had
sumer rights. canceled at least a month in
Let’s face it! Businesses advance, she might be able to
have the edge because they hire negotiate a price reduction. But
lawyers and experts in custom- swaying the catering manager
er complaint resolutions. They would probably depend on
want to be prepared for almost whether the food had already
every conceivable situation and been purchased, the employees
defeat customers who may had already been committed to
make false claims. work and, perhaps, the room had
Fine print is written into been rented out again for that
contracts to ensure that busi- evening for anotherparty.
nesses can deflect claims and In the end, the hotel might
have the last legal word. It David Horowitz makeagoodwillconsiderationin
allows them to say things like the name of good customer rela-
AM Y CAN TRELL
Isevered the nerve of my thumb
and finger when I was opening the
flip-top lid of a can of broth and it
snapped in half. I thought it was just
a bad cut, but a few days later I had
severe pain and went to my doctor. I
ended up having hand surgery and my
finger is still numb. I contacted the
broth company, and they requested all
my medical records. But they finally
said that without the actual can, there
was nothing they could do. They
offered me $200 if I signed a waiver,
but I feel I deserve more.
“We’re sorry—but you did sign our contract. tions. However, I told her to keep in mind that
It clearly spells out our policy. We cannot do the hotel could still legally and ethically insist
anything to help you now.” It is a polite way it was under no obligation to do anything, and
of saying, “Read the fine print next time.” had a right to the full amount due. What a
Here is an example of a problem that was mess of problems!
sent to me recently by an unhappy consumer The bottom line, laid down by the hotel
who tried to nullify a hastily read contract for the unfortunate party planner, was that the
regarding a graduation party that was can- contract still held. She was required to pay
celed at the last minute. The woman had the total of $7,500. She would have been
reserved a banquet hall at a well-known much better off if she had carefully read and
California hotel chain. The contract specified understood the contract before signing it,
if the function was canceled within 90 days, which might have even persuaded her not to
the signer must pay 50 percent of all estimated cancel, if at all possible.
charges. If canceled within 45 days, 100 per- The customer also could have protected
cent of all estimated charges would be due. herself by insuring the event. Some insurance
The contract stated, “The minimum food rev- companies underwrite policies that protect
enue of $7,500 is required for the event, people planning weddings or large social
excludingbeverages...” functions. A local insurance broker could
After canceling, in her words, at the last have been contacted for more information.
minute, the woman lamented that she had But preparing such a protective alterna-
prepaid a $1,500 deposit and had been con- tive requires research. I find few people are
tacted by the hotel with a bill for the remain- willing to take the time or make the effort. It
ing $6,000, even though the event never took is easier for a customer to just sign the con-
place. Despite the fact she had signed the tract and hope everything goes smoothly.
contract agreeing to these terms, she wanted Contracts, however, are written to make
to know if she had any recourse or any way to sure someone is responsible if a deal is not
reduce the amount that was owed. After all, consummated according to the business
she reasoned, the hotel did not incur expenses agreement. Read the fine print to make sure
such as meal preparation, service or other you won’t end up being a loser. C
kinds of labor.
Mary Jean, unfortunately, the fact
that you did not keep the can as proof
limits your recourse. Even if the medical records say that you cut yourself
on the sharp edge of the can, it
simply reflects what you told the
doctor about how you got cut. There
is no way to prove to the company,
or prove in a court, that the sharp
edge of the metal lid is actually
what severed the nerve or that you
might have accidentally cut yourself.
Therefore, I recommend that you
sign the waiver and accept the offer.
I believe that their offer of $200 is a
respectable goodwill gesture.
My response was that the customer willingly signed the agreement and can be held to
it. The hotel could sue her if she refuses to
pay, and the suit might appear in her credit
file. She did not consider the other side of the
coin: The facility could lose a substantial
amount of money if the customer canceled.
Costco member David Horowitz is a leading
consumer advocate. His two-hour national
radio program airs Sundays on Talk Radio
Network. For stations and times, check the
radio page on www.fightback.com.
To ask David Horowitz a question,
log on to www.fightback.com
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© 2004 Fight Back! Inc. All rights reserved.