Car crash victim says Home Depot botched $27K accessible bathroom renovation

For Dijana Kambic, enduring spinal cord damage from a car accident was life-changing enough. But now she says a botched $27,000 accessible bathroom installation through Home Depot has derailed her rehabilitation efforts for more than five months.

In 2013, the 49-year-old Mississauga, Ont., woman was rear-ended by another driver. The crash left her with severe pain, fatigue and mobility issues that make it tough to simply write emails or wash her hair on her own.

Earlier this year, she hoped a bathroom remodel — including a clinician-recommended walk-in therapeutic tub — would bring back some of her independence.

But after paying Home Depot thousands for the renovations and tub installation earlier this year, Kambic said shoddy workmanship led to major leaking and water damage in her home and a headache-inducing smell from stagnant water.

Two outside experts have backed up her claims that it wasn’t properly installed.

“I feel like I’m back 10 steps,” Kambic said through tears at her home. “And I just thought that this was going to help me.”

Though Home Depot is promising a resolution, Kambic is questioning why a fix is taking months, leaving her without a usable tub for her rehabilitation efforts in the meantime.

Kambic’s health issues began after the crash six years ago. Though she initially returned to her job as an account executive, she endured an array of symptoms, including numbness in her legs.

Clinicians eventually discovered two broken discs in her neck.

Despite having surgery, her chronic pain and cognitive difficulties continued, forcing Kambic to leave her job and retrofit her home with railings to help her get around.

One way to improve her symptoms, according to members of her medical team, was regularly spending time in a therapeutic tub.

‘It’s very disappointing’

Kambic opted for a model at Home Depot — with jets she hoped would improve her leg circulation — to allow her to bathe on her own, which she couldn’t easily do with her former setup: a chair in her shower.

In February, Kambic said she started more than $27,000 worth of bathroom renovations to install the tub through the home improvement chain, which outsourced all the work to a third-party contractor.

“Right when they put in the disability tub, there was markings on the ceilings and the bulk of the paint lifted.… They said it was my roof,” Kambic recalled.

Soon after she began using the tub, which holds more than 45 gallons of water, her teenage daughter began knocking on the bathroom door to let her know water was seeping through the floor into the living room below.

The downstairs ceiling now has water stains, peeling paint and large holes, where Kambic said the contractor cut out chunks to see where the leaks were coming from.

She also brought in multiple air purifiers to reduce what she believes is a headache-inducing smell coming from the tub’s drainage system.

“Financially, I’m not stable right now, especially with what I’m going through, so it’s very disappointing,” she said.

‘Faulty workmanship’ caused damage, expert says

Two outside experts on plumbing and contracting later backed up what Kambic suspected: The tub wasn’t installed properly.

The contractor’s “faulty workmanship” led to “many defects” and “caused the unit to fail,” reads one report from a restoration company — provided by Kambic to CBC Toronto. The report attributes the water damage to those issues.

A plumbing and heating services company offered more detail, citing issues with the door seal, a lack of adequate slope in the drainage system and undersized piping.

“I went through the warranty checklist and found five things that I can definitely say were not checked,” reads that report.

CBC Toronto has contacted both companies and each stands by the reports Kambic provided.

Home Depot working to ‘find resolution’

In a statement sent to CBC News, Home Depot spokesperson Alyssa Haw said the company currently has a team working with Kambic to find a resolution and ensure she’s “satisfied with the final product.”

But Kambic is questioning why the repairs are taking so long, especially after months of back-and-forth. She said she also hopes Home Depot will bring in a new contractor to fix the job, instead of the company she says bungled it in the first place.

One Canadian consumer protection expert said this kind of home renovation battle is fairly common — and complicated.

“Lawyers do hear about these issues on a fairly regular basis,” said Nadine Blum, a Toronto-based lawyer at Goldblatt Partners who specializes in labour and employment law.

She cites a 2018 Ipsos survey, which found more than 50 per cent of Canadian homeowners experienced problems while renovating, be it sloppy work, delays or stolen deposits.

And dealing with a large company that’s acting as the middleman can add an extra layer of issues, Blum said.

“If you have multiple parties that are involved in the work … you end up in a situation where you may have the parties pointing at each other in terms of who’s at fault if something goes wrong,” she said.

“As a consumer, you may not be able to prove who’s at fault. You may not have a direct relationship with the party who has actually been at fault, which can complicate things when you’re trying to get a legal remedy.”

Blum recommends that anyone planning a home renovation make sure there’s a contract in place, with all estimates and promises in writing, and that any issues are documented with notes and photos, in the event a complaint needs to be filed to a local consumer protection office or a lawsuit launched.

For Kambic, coming forward about her own buyer-beware experience was a difficult choice. But she hopes sharing her story can help other vulnerable customers — including those with disabilities — learn to advocate for themselves.

“I spent a lot of money,” she said. “This is not right.”

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