Dry Cleaning and Your Rights

Shrunk shirts, washed out blouses, felted sweaters, or lost jackets. We are sure you have at least heard of such even when not experiencing it personally. Your disappointment will be great. Can you demand damages from the dry cleaner? What are your rights when the cleaner does not want to accept your complaint? This article will give you some answers.


Contract on Dry Cleaning

When you hand over your filthy, ucky things to the lady at the dry cleaner, you are closing a contract to produce a work (§631 BGB). This statutorily leads to the possibility of warranty and damages (§634 BGB). Such cleaner owes you sound and careful cleaning. Whenever damages occur, the cleaning company is liable. You as their customer have to prove that your habiliment was in good shape before you handed it over. No cleaner can be held liable for the condition of your good piece such as worn out texture or strained seams.

Standard Terms and Conditions

Courts are widely of the opinion that dry cleaners can virtually exempt themselves in their STC or cap damage claims. This relates to the fact that so very many pieces of clothing are handled that it is not always easy to find the correct cleaning method. Would the cleaner need to be liable for each and every damage, especially with costly couture, without limitation prices could not be as cheap as they are. In order to make STC part of the contract, the customers have to have the possibility to acknowledge of them. In most such stores they hang near the cash register on the wall or stand in front of it. Only what is clearly legible at first sight will become a part of the contract. When STCs have not been included or are illegal the consumer can pick the regulation more in his interest.

Relief of Liability

When textiles get lost, they have to be replaced up to their current worth. In the case of damage, the same is true but only for gross negligence and intention (§276 III, 309 no. 7 BGB). Many such firms included in their STC a cap on the amount of damages of the fifteen times the service price for cleaning.

But as a judgment of AG Düsseldorf (judgment of November 21, 1988, re 53 C 485/88 shows, such a stipulation is invalid when it comes to a consumer. In this case on a pair of extraordinarily high quality pants which were damaged and the dry cleaning guy refused to pay because the customer could have taken out an extra insurance for expensive textiles. This person referred to his STC in which there is such a clause. However, the court put a spoke in that company's wheel especially as the company could not prove that such insurance could be really taken out in the shop by a surcharge to the normal cleaning price.

Examining the Rags to be Cleaned

When handing in your rags, the saleslady has to undertake a so-called "conscientious inspection" whether your good piece is at all suitable for dry cleaning as well as on the condition of that piece. When cleaning instructions are attached, the cleaner can rely on them. When there are no such instructions, the customer has to be instructed on possible damages - especially when delicate things are to be taken care of. In such cases, the cleaner may not just go ahead clean it in a normal program but must expressly explain possible damages LG Freiburg (judgment of August 21, 1986, re 3 S 86/86). When the customer still insists then it is at his own risk. In other words, when the customer has been instructed on possible damages of dry cleaning without reliable information on the method of cleaning, he cannot afterwards sue the cleaner for damages.

Loss of Your Clothes

When in the event of cleaning, your good piece gets lost and the circumstances cannot be clarified then this is usually gross negligence of the dry cleaner. In this case, the dry cleaner cannot point to his STC or cap the damages at fifteen times the cleaning price. Losing the customer's clothing goes beyond the normal risk of cleaning (AG Kassel, judgment of March 10. 1994, re 432 (871) C 7653/93). And when the cleaner is a company, then this company will be responsible for its employees (§278 BGB).

Duty of Liability with Customer

When problems arise, many STCs contain the stipulation that defects have to be ascerted within two weeks. This is no problem for evident damages. However, when a defect can only be found after very thorough inspection a longer period will be valid. When the customer wants to have damages, he will have to prove the fault of the dry cleaner. This will be unproblematic in cases of loss. The laundry ticket will suffice as proof that you gave something to be cleaned. When the dry cleaner incorrectly handled the clothes, like determining whether the zippers broke to wrong treatment of wear and tear, he will be held liable.

Arbitration Boards

Often customers lack the competence to determine what went wrong. Almost any piece of clothing and whatever else can be dry cleaned. Any kind of textile will be thoroughly examined - be it curtains, upper wear, leather clothing, etc. Depending on the kind of material, the costs for using the services of the arbitration board will be between € 15 and € 25. The arbitration award will then be accepted by the dry cleaner.

However, before turning to the arbitration board, due first try to argue with the dry cleaner because otherwise the award can become invalid when certain facts have not been brought to the attention of the experts.

Amount of Damage to be Reimbursed

When it comes to calculating the amount of damages to be paid, courts do show a heart for fashion. The value of the lost or damaged piece of clothing is determined by its current value. When you hand in an expensive rag, you will have to cope with a curtailment of your perceived value. The purchase price is to be proved / shown by the purchase receipt or sales slip. This original price is reduced in relation to the age and wear and tear of the piece ("deduction old for new [Abzug alt für neu])". Whenever the piece is usually only seldom worn, such as designer clothing or a gala dress, fashion, as a contemporary factor, will also be considered. Such was the case in the judgment of trouser suit in front of LG Berlin (judgment of December 17, 2007, re 52 S 90/07). Exceptionally, the non-material worth can be considered as part of the damage in the case of a wedding dress (AG Cologne, judgment of February 28, 2002, re 137 C 519/01).

One Parter, Two Parter, Three Parter, Four ...

It becomes even more complicated to determine the damage value when this garment consists of several parts of which only one part has been damaged or lost and the remaining actually still can be worn. Here the question is to be answered whether damages are to be paid for the total combination or only the damaged part of it. In such cases, judges can become very pragmatic. LG Berlin held that the pants, in the above mentioned case with a pants suit, are only eligible for remuneration because the remaining jacket still could be combined with other pieces of clothing. But AG Prüm (judgment of June 20, 1990, re 6 C 184/89) decided differently. A woolen skirt of an ensemble shrank during cleaning. The cleaner had to pay damages for the whole ensemble - i.e. jacket and blouse.

A Dry Cleaner is not a Laundry Room

It goes without saying that the dry cleaning business does not have the function of an external wardrobe and is not required to keep such outsourced things for years. Nevertheless, a sense a proportion is to be observed in the STC, that not only the cleaner's but also the customer's interests are fairly observed. The OLG Cologne May 07, 1997,re 6 U 104-96) considered such STC as unfair and therefore null and void which determined that the clothing is to be picked up within three months after the agreed date and after one year can be disposed as wanted. The judges saw an illegitimate disadvantage for the customer because especially with expensive pieces a profit might achieved when privately sold, which can easily exceed the cleaning costs by far.


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