Damaged Clothing? Know Your Rights and Obligations as a Dry Cleaner

Rights and Obligations as a Dry Cleaner

Mistakes happen. But when you ruin a customer’s suit or dress, you need to take action. If you don’t, customers will be upset, and they’ll probably take their business elsewhere. Plus, they’ll tell others, either in person or via social media, which can hurt your reputation for customer service.

Responsibility for safeguarding customer’s clothes isn’t something you can avoid as a dry cleaner. You’re responsible for anything customers leave with you—anything. Even if you post a sign disclaiming responsibility for items left with you, you can still be held responsible if you damage the clothes. The disclaimer can be considered an unfair business practice.

Making Amends: Harder Than It Sounds

But making amends is often harder than it sounds. It’s not always easy satisfying customers whose clothes you’ve damaged. Retaining customers is the secret to long-term survival. So before taking action, you should review rights and obligations as a Dry Cleaner under the law. That way you can find a fair solution that satisfies the customer and you.

Below we describe some steps you can take to resolve a dispute with a customer:

Step 1: Determine who’s at fault

First, you need to determine who’s at fault.  It’s may not be you. Sometimes, manufacturers put the wrong care instruction labels on clothing or don’t account for any aftermarket decorations in their recommendations.

If that happens, the courts can hold manufacturers liable for damaged clothing. They did in a case several years ago, fining Pelle Pelle $40,000 in a civil penalty.

Customers can be at fault as well—especially if they give the wrong cleaning instructions.

If that’s the case, you wouldn’t be responsible for the clothing’s condition.

But you might want to compensate the customer at a fair market value for the item anyway as a gesture of goodwill. That makes more business sense than losing the customer.

Step 2:  Determine compensation

If you decide it’s your fault, make sure you get as much information about the clothing as possible before deciding on a resolution. You’ll want to know things like when the item was purchased, how old it is, and what it cost.

Having gotten this information, you can determine the clothing’s remaining serviceability. A dress that’s more than 15 years old, for example, would be valued differently than if it was only two years old and hardly worn.

Step 3: Decide on resolution to dispute

Next, you may want to determine compensation for the clothing based on its fair market value. You have a choice to offer the customer either the “replacement cost” or the “actual cost” of the item.

Dry cleaners often use “The Fair Claims Adjustment Guide” to decide on a garment’s value and how much to compensate the customer might get for a mistake. The document’s guidelines serve as a reference for claims involving textile products.

Option 1: Submit to your insurance company

You also have the option of submitting the claim to your insurance company. To make a claim, you need to provide evidence of what the item would cost and its serviceability to your insurance company, which then determines a replacement value for the clothing.

Many insurers pay claims based on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Fair Claims Guide, which is a depreciated schedule based on the life expectancy of a given piece of clothing. This solution often works.

If the customer isn’t happy with this solution, you may want to remind him that he got some use out of the clothing before the disaster. Then ask him what he thinks would be a fair settlement to the dispute. Most people are honest, so this approach often works.

Option 2: Submit the dispute to a third-party

In addition, you have the option of seeking help from an independent third party, like the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute International (DLI), which provides services that can help you find a resolution to the dispute.

For a small fee ($36), DLI’s International Textile Garment Analysis Laboratory analyzes the clothing you send them and issues a report on what happened—a report you can use in court, if necessary.

The lab’s free app lets you skip the time and expense of sending r clothing for analysis. For a fee of $24, the lab’s experts examine the images you provide and issues you an official Garment Analysis report right on your mobile device. No boxes, waiting, postage, or package insurance needed.

Absent an agreed upon resolutions, you always can go to small claims court. But that’s an option you want to use only as a last resort.

Resolving a dispute on damaged clothing is tricky. But you want to get it right. You need to satisfy your customer and create a resolution everybody sees as a win.  So take some time to review the situation closely before deciding what to do.