WENDY KNOWLER | Food poisoning claims, car tracking premiums, hiring checks, tile refunds

Consumer watch-outs of the week

14 December 2023 - 10:41
By Wendy Knowler
With food poisoning claims, lab evidence is crucial. Stock image.
Image: 123rf.com/gmast3r With food poisoning claims, lab evidence is crucial. Stock image.

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use.

Can you prove how you got 'food poisoning'?

With food poisoning claims, lab evidence is crucial. I’ve been saying this for years and the issue cropped up this week in the Consumer Goods & Services’ Ombud’s (CGSO) last newsletter of the year, in one of its highlighted case studies.

“After cooking eggs purchased from a well-known supermarket, the complainant experienced severe abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting. Her doctor diagnosed acute gastroenteritis from food poisoning, whereupon she demanded the supermarket compensate her for her medical bills.”

The supermarket refused on the grounds that after the customer’s complaint the eggs had been collected from the supermarket and a sample sent to a laboratory for testing.

The lab report found nothing untoward and deemed the eggs fit for human consumption.

In terms of section 61 of the Consumer Protection Act, consumers can sue suppliers and manufacturers of goods (including food) for damages or injuries suffered by them because of using or consuming those goods, irrespective of whether there was negligence on the part of the supplier or manufacturer.

The “harm” for which a supplier may be held liable includes loss of income and medical bills. But here’s the challenge: While it’s not necessary to prove negligence to recover damages, you have to prove there is a link between the product and subsequent harm you suffered.

“In this instance,” the CGSO said, “we had the doctor’s note, but though it referred to food poisoning it did not specify it was due to the eggs she consumed.

“In the absence of laboratory results evidence directly linking the eggs to the illness, our office could not assist the complaint.”

So if you want your food poisoning claim to succeed, you have two things tested by an accredited lab: a sample of the remains of the dodgy food and a sample of whatever erupted from your body when you were ill. And be prepared to pay for that upfront.

When last did you check that your car tracking and insurance premiums are market related?

If it was a while ago, you are almost certainly overpaying — that’s because in most cases, the subscription fees or premiums paid by loyal, long-standing, unquestioning clients subsidise the cut-price premiums quoted to lure new clients.

Kwanele’s e-mail says it all: “In 2018 I signed a 36-month agreement with a tracking company where the cost of the device and fitting was built into the subscription as opposed to paying for it upfront.

If your initial tracking contract period is over and you’re paying on a month-to-month contractual basis, make that call

“The premium has been about R500 for two cars. Fast-forward, the premium continues after 2021 when the three-year contract period is over.

“I called them in 2023 after I heard one of my colleagues telling me how much they pay with the same company and guess what? My premium is reduced to R169 per vehicle.”

Furious, Kwanele demanded to know why his subscription wasn’t automatically reduced in 2021.

“They argued it’s not in their contract for an automatic reduction and it is similar to when you take insurance — you call your insurer and ask for a reduction as opposed to them doing it automatically.”

Kwanele regards this is as unjustified enrichment. “Had I asked for a reduction in 2021, I would have saved more than R8,000 by now,” he said.

If your initial tracking contract period is over and you’re paying on a month-to-month contractual basis, make that call.

Full refunds for excess tiles are not automatic

When buying tiles for your home you inevitably end up over-ordering. Tile retailers will take back unopened boxes, if they are in a resaleable condition, but some charge a handling fee, from 10% to 30%, in my complainants experience. And yes, they can, because there is nothing in law which compels a physical shop to take back a product if it’s not defective.

So if the tile you’re keen on is available at several outlets, compare not only the price per m² but the cost of returning unwanted, unopened boxes of tiles.

When I had this experience recently, I was delighted to learn that my chosen retailer accepts such boxes back for up to six months for a full refund.

If you buy your tiles online, you have seven days from the date of delivery or collection in which to return unwanted stock for a full refund.

That car hire company’s 'helpful' gesture could cost you plenty

If you go to collect a hired car and you’re told they’ve already pre-checked the car for you and all you have to do is sign their checklist, do not do it, no matter how much of a rush you’re in.

Once you have driven off in that car, any scape, scratch, dent or hailstone damage not marked on the document will be for your account. So insist on only signing the form once you have inspected the car and added any mark on the bodywork, tyre rims or covers, no matter now insignificant it may seem.

It pays to stop and question any process which is pitched as being more convenient for you. Trust me on this.

Do you need help with a consumer issue? Contact Wendy Knowler for advice via e-mail consumer@knowler.co.za or on X (Twitter) @wendyknowler