5 On Your Side

Raleigh woman fights for refund for defective hearing aid

Posted September 25, 2008 1:57 p.m. EDT
Updated September 26, 2008 12:21 p.m. EDT

— A Raleigh woman is among 24 million Americans with hearing problems, so she bought a hearing aid. But when it didn't work, she turned to 5 on Your Side for help collecting a promised refund.

Companies make many types of hearing aids to help with different types of hearing problems. Often, patients do not know if a device will work until they try it out, so many sellers offer money-back guarantees.

Ernestine Smith found out that, sometimes, those guarantees aren't worth the paper on which they are printed.

Smith's hearing aide was about eight years old and needed to be replaced. So in December 2007, she went to Hatfield-Berrang Hearing Aid Centers in Raleigh. It took her two months to save up to meet the $2,500 price, but she bought the device they recommended.

The hearing aid arrived in February and came with a 30-day trial period and a100 percent money-back guarantee. But Smith immediately found problems with the hearing aid.

"When I got home, turn on the TV, it would go in and out," she said.

A week later, Smith took the hearing aid back to Hatfield-Berrang Hearing Aid Center.

"I said, 'It's just not working. I'm having to wear my old hearing aid. I'm not being able to understand with it,'" Smith said.

After two months of repairs and back-and-forth with the business, an employee offered her a refund, Smith said.

"She took the hearing aid. She said, 'I have you a document for a full refund,'" Smith said. "And that's what she gave me, with her signature. And when she gave me that, she said it will take two to four weeks."

Another employee called Smith. "He said, 'I've got it, but you have to come in,'" she said.

Smith said that when she went into the store, she was told that would not get a refund. "I have got nothing," Smith said.

Hatfield-Berrang owner Mike Wheeler told 5 on Your Side that Smith missed the 30-day window for a refund and that the employee who authorized the refund should not have. Instead, Wheeler offered Smith two new hearing aids.

Then, Smith said, company President Jerry Hatfield-Berrang showed up at her house, scaring her.

After 5 on Your Side called the company again, Hatfield-Berrang eventually gave Smith the two free hearing aids – and a check for $2,500.

Before buying, see if any complaints about a particular dealer have been filed with the North Carolina Hearing Aid Dealers and Fitters Board. A board representative said that buying a hearing aid should be a low-pressure situation and that if it gets high pressure, "walk the other way."

Customers who have had problems with a dealer can also file a complaint with the board or the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.

Get advice on the causes of hearing loss and the basics of hearing aids from WRAL's Health Team.