Buyer be­ware: fine print is re­quired read­ing

Record Observer - - News - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@ches­pub.com

CENTREVILLE — A case brought be­fore the Dis­trict Court of Mary­land, Queen Anne’s County, lends the re­minder to “read the fine print.” Judge Frank M. Kra­tovil Jr. heard on Jan. 10 tes­ti­mony for a breach of con­tract in small claims court.

In this case, the plain­tiff, Judge Peter Wolf of Queen­stown, be­lieved he had been mis­lead and re­ceived mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion from heat­ing and air in­stall­ers, Ocean Air Heat­ing and Cool­ing of Stevensville and the Car­rier Cor­po­ra­tion of Bal­ti­more.

Wolf de­scribed he had a Car­rier brand HVAC unit in­stalled by Ocean Air in 2010, in May 2016 the unit be­gan hav­ing prob­lems and he con­tacted the ser vice de­part­ment at Ocean Air. He stated that coolant was added, but within about a month the unit be­gan again hav­ing prob­lems. When the tech­ni­cian re­turned, Wolf said he was told the outer coil was bro­ken and given an es­ti­mate to re­pair the unit.

Wolf gave tes­ti­mony that the tech­ni­cian from Ocean Air said the bro­ken coil was likely a fac­tory de­fect and would need to be re­placed. The es­ti­mate Wolf re­ceived was for $3,281, and Wolf re­port­edly paid $5,160 for the orig­i­nal unit.

Through the course of Wolf’s dis­cus­sion with Ocean Air he was told that the 5-year war­ranty had elapsed, and he was not cov­ered by the 10-year war­ranty be­cause he had failed to regis­ter his prod­uct at the time of pur­chase. Wolf’s com­plaint was “reg­is­ter­ing the equip­ment should have no ba­sis to de­ter­mine the dura­bil­ity of the equip­ment.” Wolf also pointed out that this type of war­ranty — prod­ucts re­quir­ing reg­is­tra­tion — is leg­isla­tively banned in other states. He fur­ther al­leged, no ver­bal dis­clo­sure re­gard­ing the war­ranty, main­te­nance and ser­vice, or prod­uct reg­is­tra­tion was given to ei­ther him or his wife at the time of pur­chase and in­stal­la­tion. Merely, he said, they were handed over a packet of papers, some 20 or 30 pages.

Wolf also told the court that an­other Ocean Air em­ployee had told his wife they “had got­ten a lemon,” mean­ing a prod­uct that was just gen­er­ally de­fec­tive.

The at­tor­neys for Car­rier and Ocean Air, Cyn­thia Weisz of Bon­ner, Kier­nan, Tre­bach and Cro­ci­ata and Sean Poltrack of Braden, Thomp­son, Poltrach and Mundy, re­sponded to the court that even though the terms of the war­ranty had not been ex­pressed ver­bally, they were no less ex­pressly im­plied in writ­ing, cit­ing the lit­er­a­ture given to and re­tained by the plain­tiff.

“Coastal lo­ca­tions re­quire ad­di­tional main­te­nance ... take ad­di­tional care to con­sult the proper clean­ing sched­ule ... the outer coil should be washed ev­ery three months,” read the de­fense from the prod­uct man­ual.

The de­fense also ex­hib­ited the color sales sheet that was used to sell the Wolf fam­ily their heat pump. The de­fense noted the ex­tended war­ranty in­for­ma­tion was in­deed listed in the small print, di­rect­ing pur­chasers to Car­rier.com for prod­uct reg­is­tra­tion.

How­ever, as tes­ti­fied by Tom Wind­miller, Car­rier tech­ni­cal ser­vice man­ager for the MidAt­lantic Re­gion, an ex­tended war­ranty would not have cov­ered the outer coil re­gard­less, be­cause there was no record of quar­terly main­te­nance to the coil. Car­rier iden­ti­fies the area of Queen­stown were Wolf re­sides as a coastal lo­ca­tion and there­fore sub­ject to main­te­nance ev­ery three months, said Wind­miller.

Af­ter hear­ing lengthy tes­ti­mony, Kra­tovil said al­though the court is sym­pa­thetic to the plain­tiff, judge­ment af­ter trial was de­cided in fa­vor of both de­fen­dants, Car­rier and Ocean Air.

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