ountryside’s co-owner Jerry Ponder acts as an expert witness helping resolve disputes between customers and kitchen retailers. “Much of my work as an expert witness is quite routine and frankly, a little dull at times. But it’s important work to do because it helps consumers, retailers and their lawyers get to the bottom of the issues in their disputes and reach the right conclusions.” It can also highlight areas where problems can arise.
A recent instruction
My ears pricked up when I received a request from a lawyer representing a client caught between two suppliers. This really brought home the importance of clear lines of responsibility and one-stop shopping for fitted kitchens.
The primary issue involved a Belfast sink and the surrounding stone worktop that had been fitted flush with the outside edges of the sink walls. This meant that water splashing from the sink would collect on top of the sink edges and drip down the front of the unit underneath. Over a period of time, the water ingress damaged the unit beyond repair.
The agreed remedy was for a new sink unit to be fitted along with new worktops manufactured with an overhang over the sink bowls.
A money saving shortcut?
Initially the client had purchased the kitchen from one retailer, and the worktop from another to save some money. Although the two companies were working together to install the kitchen there was a grey area when it came to responsibility.
All parties agreed there was an issue and also it’s remedy, but would not agree on who was liable for the repairs. The ensuing wrangle involved the kitchen retailer blaming the worktop retailer for making the worktops incorrectly, and the worktop retailer blaming the kitchen retailer for issuing a drawing that showed the worktop edge held back from the sink bowls.
In the complex court action that followed, in the end Jerry’s expert evidence proved that the worktop retailer was liable. This was due to them being unable to produce any credible evidence that the kitchen retailer had issued anything approaching a clear instruction for design of the worktops.
The moral of the story
Although the customer had initially saved a small amount of money by separating the contracts, they ended up in the unfortunate situation of being caught between the two warring companies. Subsequently they faced with a huge amount of inconvenience and costs.
“If the client had contracted a single company to supply and install the kitchen as a one-stop-shop, it would have been a straightforward resolution as there was just one party with overall responsibility. It would have been up to the kitchen retailer to argue the issue with the worktop retailer as his sub-contractor and would not have involved the client at all. This case is a salutary reminder of how important it is for kitchen retailers to offer comprehensive goods and services for the whole project.“
At Countryside, we encourage our clients to think carefully and recognise the risks of dividing the supplies and responsibilities between different parties. If something goes wrong, there is not always a clear division of responsibility, as this case showed. It was an expensive lesson to learn and no doubt the client will do things differently for his next kitchen!