You Break It, You Own It -- Maybe!

by Judith Katz-Schwartz

Dateline: 4/15/98

Dealers, before you get out your pens and pencils and brushes, before you select a nice large piece of poster board, before you sit down and create a sign that says, "Lovely to look at, Delightful to hold, But if you break it, Consider it SOLD!", read this:

In many states in the U.S. and in many countries, you may have no legal recourse if a customer breaks an item in your shop, showcase or show booth. After all, that's why we have insurance.

Yes, I know it's not fair that you (the victim!) should have to do the paperwork, file the claim, pay the deductible, pray you'll get full value for the item and endure having your premium raised. But that's life. It's the cost of doing business. I know it's easier to tell the careless customer "That will be $39.50." But, in many places you can't legally do that. The customer can just say, as we all do in a supermarket, "Oh, by the way, there's a broken item in aisle five. Have a nice day."

Now, if you're a customer, pay attention to this: You are not legally obligated to pay for an item you've broken, but you have a clear moral obligation to do so. Although no one can call the police and have you arrested for backing into an item on an open shelf or knocking it over with your handbag, if you have a conscience, you're going to do the right thing and take responsibility for your actions, however accidental they may have been.

Last year Artie and I were in the great city of San Diego, California to attend my brother's wedding. We visited every antiques store we could. In one shop, we found several things we loved, and we handed each one to the manager, who brought them up to the front desk for us. I turned around ask Artie a question, and my shoulder bag knocked a Nippon ladle off an open shelf. I picked up the pieces, brought them up to the manager and said,

"Well, I guess we'll take this too." She smiled and said,

"We have a policy here. If a customer accidentally breaks something, we only ask her to pay the dealer's cost."

Now, that's a policy we all can live with. It certainly is good for business. The cordial relationship between dealer and customer is maintained, there's no embarrassment and it seems fair to everyone.

One more note to the customer: even if you don't have a conscience, consider this: if people don't take responsibility and pay for items they (or their children or their pets) damage or destroy, then dealers will be forced to consider their losses from this type of part of their cost of doing business, and we all know what will happen then. Prices will go up. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Your comments, as always, are welcome. If you have something to say, write to me.
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2011 Judith Katz-Schwartz. All rights reserved.