Customer's ring taken in store robbery - her bad luck?

Customer's ring taken in store robbery - her bad luck?

If a store is robbed and something that belongs to you - that they had in their possession at the time gets stolen - is the company responsible for compensating you?

Consumerwatch - Ring stolen from jewelry store

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That’s the big question that was asked when the supposedly secure safety deposit box areas of two FNB branches in Joburg were accessed within a couple of weeks of each other, and hundreds of boxes and their contents stolen.

The answer has everything to do with whether or not a company exercised what the Consumer Protection Act describes as “the car, diligence and skill that can be expected of someone managing the property of someone else”.

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In the FNB case it became clear that the bank’s security measures had fallen short in various ways and the bank having initially taken no responsibility for any of the losses, began to assist and compensate albeit only to a reasonably small extent.

Likewise if a mechanic crashed a customer’s car while “test driving” it and there was evidence that he had been speeding, texting while driving or behaving irresponsibly in some other way - the dealership would be liable.

Louise Wilson's diamond ring taken 

Louise Wilson of Kloof took a diamond ring which she had for more than 30 years to a jewellery store in a KZN mall for cleaning and valuation in June 2015. 

On the slip she was given at the time, a staff member wrote: “To supply valuation. Client would prefer to sell.

The ring - an 18-carat white gold diamond solitaire ring - was valued by the store at more than R90 000. 

She kept in contact with the jewellers during the course of the next year, and each time she was told it hadn’t sold.

It was during one of those visits that she got some very bad news - there’d been a robbery at the store on the 8th of June and her ring was among the many items of jewellery and watches taken by the gunmen.

Clearly it was a traumatic event for the jewellers and its staff and pretty much impossible to avoid. But a few weeks later no-one from the store had called Louise to tell her that her ring was gone, she says. And it got worse. 

She hadn’t insured her ring - she’d kept it in a safe in her home until she took it to the jewellers. 

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And then came an email from their insurance brokers telling her that her ring was not on the store’s list of insured items  "I kept writing letters to them saying - how could this be because I don’t have that ring on my insurance. And they said - sorry that’s how it is, we suggest you take it up with the jewellers,” she says. 

So the jewellers insured their own jewellery but not that of their customers.

“Whilst the jewellers take great care of goods whilst in their possession, this unfortunate incident was beyond their control," the brokers told Louise. 

I gave the the jewellers two full business days to respond and they said they needed more time which is why I’ve elected not to reveal the name for now.

Louise said they had relied on a slip of paper which she was given when she handed the ring over in 2015 for valuation and selling on her behalf. But it’s a form which appears to have been designed for repairs. It states: “We are not responsible for repairs left over three months.”

Clearly that doesn’t cover this scenario. She is adamant that she was not warned that the ring would not be covered by the jeweller’s insurance policy.  

Wendy consults a legal expert 

I asked Trudie Broekmann, an attorney who specialises in Consumer Protection Act cases, to spell out the legal position.

She said the CPA’s Section 65(2) imposes a heavy duty of care on the shop to exercise the care, diligence and skill that can be expected of someone managing the property of someone else. 

“This duty in my view includes obtaining and maintaining insurance on the ring, storing it in a secure safe overnight and securing it against theft and robbery,” she said. “The prevalence of robberies in the jewellery retail sector makes this risk foreseeable.”

“If the store can’t show that they took adequate steps to prevent the customer’s loss, they are fully liable to her,” Trudie says.

The fact that Louise was allegedly not warned about the risk arising from her leaving the ring with the jeweller was also an issue, she said.

Louise says she informed the jewellers that she’d settle for half the value of the ring.

So we’ll return to the issue when we get that response from the jewellers.

But the learning is clear - when you hand over your possessions - your car, your watch, your jewellery, your microwave - for repair or modification, evaluation - ask very specific questions about how your car and its keys, for example, will be safeguarded and what the company will do if its damaged or stolen.

And then you may want to tell them about the CPA. If there’s a lack of care and diligence on their part - they’d be liable whether they’re insured or not.

To be continued...

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