5 On Your Side

Ruined clothes: What does a dry cleaner owe you?

Most brides believe their wedding dress is the most important garment they will ever wear. A local bridge brought her dress to a Durham dry cleaner for a cleaning and said the dress came back ruined.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Most brides believe their wedding dress is the most important garment they will ever wear.

“You search and search for the dress that makes you feel the way you want to feel,” Michelle Fleming said.

Fleming’s daughter found the perfect wedding gown for half the price. It was a designer sample she purchased off the rack for $1,615.

Before the wedding, Fleming wanted to have the dressed cleaned so she took it to GiGi's French Dry Cleaners in Durham.

The dress came back looking like “aged leather,” Fleming said.

“The problem is the fabric, which used to be very smooth and have a sheen and body to it, now is just criss-crossed with all of these lines that are permanently part of the fabric,” she said.

Fleming said the manager of GiGi's, Baron Rose, blamed the fabric.

“He told me they followed the label instructions and that it must have been inferior fabric,” she said.

So, Fleming called the designer where a rep told her, the damage described was “consistent with the fabric being wet.”

The dress label says the fabric requires "special attention" and to "spot clean only".

Fleming says Rose said his insurance company would contact her. It has been more than three months, and she said no one has called.

GiGi's has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau for unresolved complaints.

When 5 on Your side called Rose, he said he doesn't do "spot cleaning” and insisted the fabric was "defective" and simply "bled on itself."

Rose said his insurance carrier should have called Fleming, but he would not provide the name of the company.

Unfortunately, there are no specific laws regarding dry cleaners and no special dispute resolution boards.

When a cleaner damages or loses something, as a matter of good business, most companies will compensate consumers, although usually at a significantly depreciated rate.

If the dispute cannot be resolved, the next option for consumers is small claims court. Fleming is debating whether to go to court.

“Mistakes happen, but a responsible business addresses it,” she said. “It's one thing to have your dress shirt ruined. It’s another thing entirely to have a wedding dress ruined.”

Another way these kinds of disputes are sometimes resolved is with the help of the International Textile Analysis Laboratory. It's run by the trade association the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute. For $36, they will analyze a garment and provide a report that can be used as legal evidence. GiGi's is not a member of the institute.

The institute also has a Fair Claims Guide which spells out what dry cleaners should pay when items are ruined. It's based on age, condition and the item's life expectancy.


Monica Laliberte, Reporter
David McCorkle, Photographer
Lori Lair, Producer
Kathy Hanrahan, Web Editor

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