Believing what their lawyer said proves to be a costly mistake
A Killaloe couple who ended up in small claims court for refusing to pay the remaining $935 balance on a $4,485 window installation not only lost the case last summer, but ended up with legal bills totalling almost $10,000.
Erika Von Der Hoeh, 62, and her husband Christian, 82, also lost out on a federal tax credit for home renovations because they could not claim the work due to the outstanding balance.
They withheld the money because they were dissatisfied with the new bay window in their dining room. It was one of three windows installed by Bonnechere Valley Windows of Eganville in late 2009.
Their main concern was that the bay window had not been installed properly as the three sides of glass projecting outside did not appear to extend far enough from the exterior wall. The window company explained the overall width of the window frame only allowed the side panels to come out so far, and that there was nothing wrong with the installation. To add insult to the nearly $10,000 in legal debts, “my window is still not fixed,” says a very frustrated Erika Von Der Hoeh. “It’s just ridiculous.”
Though their dispute began with the window company, they now have a more expensive one with Bancroft lawyer William Watson, who charged them about $8,000 for his work. Besides that charge, the couple was ordered by the court to pay $1,850 towards the window company’s legal costs. Company owner Andreas Vornweg says his total legal bill was probably around $4,000.
Despite numerous calls to his office, Watson could not be reached for comment.
Von Der Hoeh says she and her husband, pensioners with limited income, never imagined such a steep bill. Besides, she says, Watson assured them they would win the case and the court award would cover his bill.
Though many plaintiffs and defendants in small claims represent themselves, Von Der Hoeh says she felt hiring a lawyer was necessary as the window company initiated the court action with a lawyer on board. Watson was recommended to the couple by Sykes, a legal advisory service found on the Internet.
After Bonnechere Valley Windows initiated the action in 2010 to recover the outstanding balance, the couple countersued for $8,000. The amount included $4,000 for a new bay window as well as legal fees and the lost tax credit.
Had Watson warned them how expensive the case could end up being if they didn’t win, Von Der Hoeh says they would have simply settled their bill with Bonnechere Valley Windows.
The judge who heard the two-day case in Pembroke last July did not give reasons for his ruling. However, documents presented at the hearing appear to indicate that the window company did not believe there was a problem, yet made different offers to try to resolve the matter before launching its court action. Von Der Hoeh says the offers were turned down because they did not amount to much.
Bonnechere also offered the couple a $1,500 settlement last summer, but Von Der Hoeh says they couldn’t accept that either because they were already $3,000 in debt to Watson. They had previously paid the lawyer about $1,400, which included his retainer.
The bill he sent the couple following the case came to about $6,600 — on top of the $1,400 already paid. Annual interest is seven per cent.
Travel time from Watson’s office in Bancroft to the Pembroke court building — where a one-day settlement conference for the case was held in 2011, followed by the twoday hearing last July — is about two hours. He charged the couple $75 an hour for travel plus 50 cents a kilometre. His legal fees were $250 an hour with a minimum $125 charge for any service under a half-hour.
The couple has since paid the outstanding balance to the window company as well as the $1,850 toward its legal costs.
Von Der Hoeh asked Watson in an email last October to “drastically reduce your charges” because she feels his bill is way out of whack for the services they received. She says she has called his office a number of times for an explanation on why they lost the case, but the only communication she gets from the lawyer is regular invoices.
“Your lack of response proves my point that we are not important enough for you to call us back or email us,” she wrote in the October email.
Watson did send them a curt warning by mail on Feb. 5 that they pay up or face the hassles of a collection agency.
“Unfortunately for me, the moment that I send out an account, it becomes income in my hands and I pay the GST/HST on it even though I haven’t collected it.
“I will allow you ten (10) days from this date to make payment arrangements,” he continues. “(Failing that,) I have no choice but to proceed to collection which will reflect on your credit rating.”
No word yet if a collection agency has been deployed