Bamboozled November 27, 2017: After $9.5K in water damage to home, is Lowe’s responsible?

Ro Dobkin and her water softener purchased at and installed by Lowe's. Her basement was damaged when a connector leaked, with water spreading through the finished part of her basement.
Ro Dobkin and her water softener purchased at and installed by Lowe’s. Her basement was damaged when a connector leaked, with water spreading through the finished part of her basement. (Jerry McCrea/For NJ Advance Media)

How many Lowe’s employees does it take to change a light bulb?

Not sure. But it took 11 employees to help one customer, sort of. And the customer still hasn’t been made whole.

Ro Dobkin purchased a Whirlpool water softener from the Lowe’s store in Butler on Aug. 1, 2016. Including installation, the cost was $325. Thinking she would protect her investment, she also bought a $59.97 four-year extended warranty that would cover all the parts and labor should there ever be a problem.

Lowe’s installed the unit in the Whippany home, and all was well until July 19 of this year.

“I discovered water in my basement coming from a stainless steel corrugated connector attached to my not yet one-year-old water softener,” Dobkin said.

It’s not like she had a multi-inch flood, but water moved from the unfinished part of the basement to the finished part, and it squished under Dobkin’s feet on the carpet.

She said she called the Lowe’s customer service line right away, and a rep named Angie said the softener was still under the manufacturer warranty. That meant Dobkin would need to contact Whirlpool. Angie tried contacting the company, but because it was after 6 p.m., she couldn’t get through.

Dobkin worried about water damage, so there was a time element at play.

“I did tell Angie that while the softener was in the unfinished part of my basement, the rest of the basement was finished,” Dobkin said. “She suggested I call Lowe’s first thing on July 20th and Lowe’s would explain the situation to Whirlpool to make sure they were the right party to contact.”

The water was shut off in the home, but water kept leaking from the connector, Dobkin said. And it had already spread through the finished part of the basement.

When Dobkin called Lowe’s in the morning, she reached Angie again. Angie called Whirlpool and patched Dobkin in on a call before Angie hung up.

Ro Dobkin reviews the warranty for her water softener.

“I spoke with Mark who explained that the warranty covered only the unit itself and some plastic components,” she said. “Mark stated that the connector was provided by Lowe’s and was therefore clearly the responsibility of Lowe’s.”

So Dobkin called Lowe’s back, this time reaching Jimmy. She explained the situation and that the unit needed immediate service to limit damage to the finished part of the basement.

Jimmy transferred Dobkin to a supervisor named James, who said it seemed the issue was caused by improper installation. He brought in Katie from customer care, and Katie brought in Kristin in installation. Kristin next called Mitch, who was unable to reach an installer to send to the home, Dobkin said.

“I clearly explained to every Lowe’s employee I spoke with that the water was still coming out of the connector and that I have a finished basement,” Dobkin said. “I specifically asked Kristin if I could short-circuit the process and call my own plumber.”

That wouldn’t work, Dobkin said Kristin reported, because that would void the warranty. Instead, Kristin said she would put in a work order, Dobkin said.

Dobkin couldn’t wait any longer.

“Since I was unable to stop the leak from the connector, I did call my own plumber who came to my home and bypassed the water softener,” Dobkin said, noting the plumber didn’t have the part to replace the defective connector.

When the plumber left, Dobkin called Lowe’s again.

This time she spoke to Rebecca, who was unable to find a work order for the job. It was after 6 p.m., so Rebecca said she would contact a field service manager the next day, and Rebecca gave Dobkin her direct line.

“Being extremely frustrated at this point, I reached out to the local Butler store and spoke with Henry, an assistant store manager,” Dobkin said. “Henry tried his best and he spoke with Theresa, who assured Henry she would place a ‘work legacy order,’ which meant it was an emergency situation and had to be addressed ASAP.”

The next day, Dobkin said, she called Rebecca several times and reached the general voicemail.  She said she asked for a return call, but no one ever called.

After a few hours, Dobkin called Lowe’s again, this time reaching Thaddeus. But Thaddeus said he couldn’t see any work legacy order.

A closer look at the water softener and its connectors. The faulty connector was replaced after her basement had water damage.

“In desperation, I called Henry and once again he tried to intercede on my behalf,” Dobkin said. “Unfortunately he was no more successful than I had been.”

They conference called with Shereen, another rep, and Henry gave Dobkin the okay to hire her own plumber to replace the defective connector. He told her to come to the store to pick up a new connector kit at no charge, Dobkin said.

She picked up the kit and had her own plumber make the fix, but the damage was already done.

Dobkin turned to her homeowner’s insurance, which turned to a restoration company to repair the water damage, replace carpeting, a door and some baseboards.

The insurance company paid $4,556 to the restoration company and another $3,887 directly to Dobkin, but she’s still out her $1,000 deductible.

At least the local Lowe’s store reimbursed Dobkin for the cost of the plumber.

For the next three months, Dobkin and reps from her homeowner’s insurance company have been fighting to get the money back from Lowe’s corporate offices.

Lowe’s seems to be fighting it every step of the way.

A review of the emails shows Dobkin submitted copies of the insurance paperwork and repeated summaries of what happened to Lowe’s executive support team.

The faulty connector was sent in for an “assessment study,” per Lowe’s request.

Dobkin hasn’t seen a copy of those results.

A close-up of the faulty connector that Ro Dobkin said caused the water damage.

And repeatedly, Lowe’s said it wouldn’t talk to Dobkin’s insurance representatives but only to Dobkin, even though they all explained the insurance company had paid for Dobkin’s repairs so it now had a claim against Lowe’s, too.

Still, Lowe’s wasn’t accepting responsibility.

We asked the company to review the matter, and it took a look at the case — putting Dobkin in touch with the same rep she had been emailing with all along.

Her case was given a new claim number, and like a merry-go-round, it all started again.

But this time, Lowe’s came to a determination. Dobkin and her insurance company would have to go after the maker of the connector, and Lowe’s wasn’t taking any responsibility, the company said.

“It seems that everyone is pointing fingers at the defective connector and ignoring the fact that Lowe’s failed to send anyone to my home after repeated calls from myself as well as from the assistant store manager at the Butler location,” Dobkin said.

She said quicker action when the problem first started would have avoided most of the damage to her home.

We asked Lowe’s to comment on this decision, but it didn’t respond to our request in time for publication.

Dobkin is still out her money, and her insurance company will have to continue to fight.

Guess that warranty wasn’t worth much after all.