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Giving a Jump-Start to No-Show Deliverymen : Legislation would allow stood-up consumers to sue in small claims court.

June 04, 1989|MARILYN OLIVER | Marilyn Oliver is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

When Therese Fuller of Long Beach bought two new coffee tables at a furniture store in South-Central Los Angeles, she was assured that they were in stock and would be delivered the following Tuesday.

"I waited all day, but the delivery man never came," she said. "Finally, at 4:30 when I called the warehouse, the manager said the tables had just arrived that morning and that delivery couldn't be made until Saturday. I was really irritated. . . ."

Teacher Carol Wertheim of Los Angeles spent two days of her spring vacation waiting for delivery of a washing machine she had bought at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

The washer was scheduled to be delivered Wednesday. After waiting all day, she called and was told that a mix-up in paper work created a delay and that the machine would be delivered between 1 and 4 p.m. the next day.

The van did arrive at 4:15, but when Wertheim complained to the delivery man about what she said was his surly behavior, he drove off with the washer. After the intervention of the appliance department manager, he finally delivered the machine at 7:05.

Failure to Show Up

"It's not fair to expect the customer to be at the beck and call of the deliveryman," Wertheim said.

Everyone has experienced the inconvenience and frustration of waiting for delivery or service people who fail to show up on time. Up to now, all you could do was complain, and wait. But a bill introduced this year in the Legislature would give the consumer more clout.

Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) has introduced Senate Bill 101, which would require deliverymen, cable television and utility workers to arrive at a customer's home within an agreed-upon four-hour period if the customer's presence is required.

If the delivery or service personnel fail to arrive during the scheduled period, the consumer would be able to sue in small claims court for lost wages, if time was taken from work, and other expenses or economic damages up to $500.

The only exception would be if the delay is caused by natural disasters or occurrences beyond the control of the business or utility. Further, building tradespeople, such as plumbers, electricians or carpenters--would not be covered by the bill.

The bill was passed by the Senate and is now being considered in the Assembly.

'Time Off From Work'

"Almost everyone has a story to tell about rude treatment by a service provider," Lockyer said in a telephone interview from Sacramento.

"I had a constituent who took time off work and who waited four and a half days in a row for the cable TV serviceman. Each afternoon she was promised that they would be there the next day."

Retailers, most utilities, cable companies and trade groups oppose the legislation.

The vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce, Dave Kilby, said, "The Chamber has concerns that the bill will lead to significant litigation in situations beyond the control of a business when deliveries cannot be made because of employee illness.

"Some small businesses have told me that they will go out of the delivery business if the bill is passed."

"This bill will affect retailers by adding one more regulation to complicate business in California," said Jennifer Stanley, legislative analyst with the Department of Commerce.

Dennis Mangers, senior vice president of the California Cable Television Assn. in Sacramento, said he is worried that the bill would reduce efficiency and would mean hiring more personnel, resulting in higher costs, which would be passed on to consumers.

Concerned About Scheduling

"Cable repairmen run into every conceivable problem in the home, such as architectural design problems, dry rot and the customer who wants three installations (when only one is scheduled)," he said.

Utility companies such as Southern California Gas Co., Pacific Telephone and General Telephone are concerned that possibility of small claims lawsuits would keep them from scheduling same-day or next-day service.

Spokesmen for the companies say they are sensitive to customer service and already schedule morning or afternoon appointments on request. However, emergencies take precedence.

"We try to provide same-day service, if possible," said Ralph Cohen, of Southern California Gas. "If we have to make a commitment to a definite time, we might have to put service off for an additional day, increase our computer capability and hire more staff to deal with emergencies. These services mean more expense.

"Also, fewer than 5% of our complaints refer to scheduling problems."

Withdrew Opposition

The Southern California Edison Co., which initially opposed the bill, dropped its opposition after the arrival time frame was lengthened from two to four hours.

Businesses complain that the bill does not penalize the customer who is not home at the scheduled service time. Mangers of California Cable Assn. estimate that in Southern California 30% of those asking for service aren't at home when the repairman comes.

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