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Cleaning methods ruling

A county court case that ruled in favour of a client may lead to serious repercussions in the refrigeration industry, warns Phil Evans.

Phil Evans, owner of Evenlode Refrigeration, Eynsham, Oxfordshire lost a recent court case following a claim by a client that tried and tested industry cleaning methods had caused equipment to fail.

Phil has been in the industry for 35 years, starting out as an apprentice at age 17 with Prestcold Southern before moving on to Bejam’s, Comfort Cooling and Honeywell. 

“I started my own business in August 2000 and have built a customer base in and around the Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire region,” he said.

“We carry out service installation and maintenance work, and I am the only full time employee, joined by my wife, Fiona, who looks after the administration side.

”I have a good source of local, reliable and experienced, self-employed engineers, who I can call upon to assist when the work load increases. We have developed a company that has an excellent reputation in the area.”

But in this case it all went horribly wrong.

Not cool

A sub-contractor was sent to the premises to carry out a maintenance visit on a split system in July 2006. This was done by chemically cleaning the indoor and outdoor unit, and later that day Phil received a call from the customer to say that the system was not cooling.

After visiting the site personally, and checking out the unit, he contacted the Daikin helpdesk, and was advised to fit two new PCB boards on the outdoor unit, which were covered under warranty.

His sub-contractor returned to the site a few days later to fit the parts, but then the unit did not run. The only part of the system working was the indoor fan motor. 

Later the same day, Phil returned to the site with the sub-contractor and advised the customer to contact the original installers, as they are the Daikin agents, and they would have the expertise to solve this problem.

“This was not carried out, but instead a third company was called in,” said Phil.

“Five visits were made in all. Two PCB boards replaced again, the outdoor fan motor and the inverter PCB m board. Then some days later I was presented with a bill for £625 from the customer, followed by a County Court Judgment totaling £1,064.”

Phil sought professional advice immediately, as this had never happened to him before, and on the advice of his solicitor, put in a counter claim. An invoice had not been sent to the customer from Phil’s company for works carried out.

The case subsequently was heard at Oxford Magistrates Court on February 7, 2006.

“The customer told the judge that he had seen the engineer spray the outdoor unit with what he called ‘sudds’ (coil cleaner to us engineers), and he (the customer) had been told that is why the outdoor PCB had failed,” said Phil.

“I explained to the judge that this equipment is designed to be outdoors 24/7, but alas, the case was awarded to the customer.”

Industry questions

Phil says the outcome raises many questions that may affect the industry and its cleaning procedures.

Does the ruling mean that the common practice of spraying outdoor units with chemicals in the industry is not to continue, and has any other company found themselves in a similar position?

In my opinion the judge and the client had no knowledge of the equipment or technicalities of our industry.

Phil asks: “Is there any form of professional body that could give advice to businesses and courts should a case like this be brought to court again? 

“The lesson to be learnt is that I shall not be using pressurised water and chemicals again unless absolutely necessary. I will be using a brush and nitrogen from now on.”