Bamboozled: Chilly service

Elizabeth Jacus has had a very rough summer.BB branding

She’s been caring for her husband, 83, who is recovering from bypass surgery.

On July 10, her husband was readmitted to the hospital with complications.

On that same day, Jacus’ refrigerator died.

The refrigerator, purchased at Sears in 2001, was covered by a warranty contract for which she pays $58 a year. Jacus, 67, called customer service before she and her husband were due at the hospital.

Sears told her the next available service date was in 14 days.

Fourteen days?

Jacus couldn’t wait 14 days. Her husband, a diabetic, keeps a three-month supply of insulin, worth more than $1,000, in the refrigerator. She requested an earlier appointment, which the customer service rep entered into the computer as a medical emergency because of the insulin.

81109She put her husband’s insulin in a mini-fridge she had, relieved that her pharmacist said the insulin wouldn’t spoil if it was a little warm. If it had been frozen, she would have had to throw it away, like the $335 worth of food already in the trash.

”I had thrown out what was smelly and left the rest,” Jacus said. ”They told me to take pictures or take off the labels of the food, so I saved the labels.”

She then headed to the hospital.

Customer service

Her daughter received a call that a service technician could be there in three days. Jacus, who had been in the hospital day and night with her husband, returned home to meet the technician.

A small spring – the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen – needed replacing.

He fixed the spring, but accidentally ripped the gasket – the part that forms a tight seal when you close the refrigerator door. The tech ordered that part and said he’d return when it came in.

”He left and set the thermostat on 7 and he said it would take 24 hours to cool down, so I shouldn’t put in anything if it had to stay cold,” she said.

Jacus returned some bottles and cans to their rightful places. For safety, she sealed some items in plastic bags.

A few hours later, before leaving for the hospital, Jacus checked on the refrigerator. It was very cold. Too cold. She lowered the setting to 4 and she left.

She returned home 24 hours later to find everything in her refrigerator was frozen solid.

”A can of soda exploded and the lid came right off. I had a quart jar of holy water, and the glass broke and the holy water was standing there in a block of ice. My Brita pitcher cracked top to bottom,” she said. ”It’s a good thing I didn’t put the insulin back in there.”

She estimated the food loss at $100, not counting the Brita pitcher ($28) or the holy water (to her, priceless).

It was after 5 p.m., so Jacus called the 24-hour customer service scheduling line. A recording said to call back during business hours.

She couldn’t call in the morning because she was back with her husband in the hospital. When she finally brought him home, she called again.

A few days later the technician came and jiggled the spring, fixing the freezing problem, but he couldn’t fix the gasket. He didn’t have the part. It was being delivered to the Jacus’ house, he said.

When Jacus finally received the part and got an appointment for a technician to come the next day, a Saturday, between 8 and 5 she was frustrated. The representative said Sears would call the next day with a more precise time.

”I was even going to the bathroom with a cordless phone,” she said, fearing she’d miss the call. ”Then I had to run out and get milk. That’s when they called.”

Her husband said Sears said someone would call the next day, but they were not told a technician wasn’t coming. No one showed.

Jacus called yet called again, and was told someone would be there three days later between 8 and 5.

That was the Jacus’ 47th wedding anniversary.

”That’s when it finally got fixed. That’s how we celebrated our anniversary,” she said.

When the work was all done, the technician said without the warranty coverage, the fixes would have cost $460.79.

She then learned her service contract covered one annual food loss of $250. She lost $335 the first time around and more than $100 the second time.

Jacus felt she should be reimbursed for the second food loss because the freeze was caused by the technician. She was so frustrated at the idea of calling customer service yet again, so she contacted Bamboozled.

Making things right

Bamboozled contacted Sears to see if they could do something to remove the sour taste from the mouth of this longtime customer, whose family has been buying Sears appliances since she was 9.

Sears wouldn’t give Jacus a new refrigerator because the service contract states it must break four times in one year to be eligible for a replacement. The company, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, did send Jacus a check for $450 to help cover her food losses, and it gave her a $75 coupon to purchase a small box refrigerator (which typically costs $75) to keep as a spare.

Jacus said she’ll probably remain a Sears customer.

“I’ve always liked their appliances,” she said. “Most likely I wouldn’t bother with warranty service anymore. I thought with the warranty, I’d get quicker service and obviously you don’t really,” she said.