Sunday, November 09, 2014

Noble offer to repair damaged laptop backfires

Several weeks ago, H.T., a reader from New England, arrived at her gym and "created a disaster."

The gym is a large open space. On one side is a common area for members with a large table and cubicles for gym members to store their belongings. When H.T. was walking over to put her things in a cubicle, she bumped into the table, causing a full water bottle with no cap to tip over. The water pooled under the bottle owner's laptop, which was also sitting on the table.

H.T. quickly lifted the laptop off the table and shouted, "Whose laptop is this?" The owner ran over. H.T. writes that she apologized "profusely" and told the owner that if she'd "messed up" the laptop she'd do whatever she could to get it fixed.

The next day, H.T. received an email from the laptop owner indicating that a computer store had quoted $170 to retrieve the data from the computer, plus another $1,200 to either repair the old laptop or replace it with a new one.

"In my wildest dreams, I never expected my offer to fix the situation would leave me with a bill of well over $1,000," H.T. writes. "Maybe I'm naive, but I thought maybe a couple hundred dollars (for repairs)." While H.T. was still willing to cover the data recovery costs, she stressed that it was the owner's responsibility to keep her personal belongings safe.

"An unattended laptop in a public space with an open water bottle beside it is an accident waiting to happen." Therefore, H.T. doesn't believe she should be financial responsible for buying the owner a new computer.

"Am I right?" she asks.

H.T. is right that the owner was irresponsible for not taking better care of her laptop. It's great that users trust fellow gym members enough to leave their laptops unattended, but leaving an opened water bottle next to her laptop was careless and the owner could have been held responsible for any damage that resulted.

Except, of course, that the person who nudged the table offered to accept responsibility for the damage. The right thing to do is for H.T. to honor her commitment. However, she shouldn't do so without first getting some kind of proof from the laptop owner that the machine needed to be replaced. H.T. should not take the owner's word for it that a new laptop was the only solution.

It's also perfectly reasonable for H.T. to be honest with the laptop owner and tell her she had no idea the repair costs would be so high, and see if the owner would be willing to let H.T. pay for the data retrieval only.

While it was noble of H.T. to offer to make things right once the damage was done -- when she could have easily turned a blind eye and walked away from the spill -- it would have been equally fine for her to set a limit on how much she was willing to help. 

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William Jacobson said...


I disagree. Part of being an adult is taking responsibility for your actions and owning up to when you have caused a problem. Your reader was liable for the damage when she bumped the table causing the damage not from when she promised to cover the damages. She would have been just as liable if she had walked away and said nothing. The right thing to do is to own up to the damage she caused and make it right. If she disputes that the data recovery and computer replacement are not warranted, the burden is on her to prove otherwise.

Liquid damage is usually fatal to consumer electronics. Replacement is probably warranted. Keep in mind that if she does not honor her word that the owner can sue her and since she admitted the damage will likely be found at fault. Better to pay it off and move on.

She might want to check to see if her homeowner's insurance would cover this sort of incident... I've seen stranger things.

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA

Anonymous said...

A hard lesson to not be so "noble" and somewhere, somehow, this "wonderful human being" owner of the computer should be roasting in hell for his or her taking advantage of a kind hearted human being. It goes without saying that the computer owner was the fool for leaving a valuable tool where "anything" could happen. And, even if the person in question had some liability, to have expected this kind of "remuneration" is the height of the worst of how humans can act!

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC