My Beloved Osito,
High school, in Dr. H’s marketing class, is where my love for business started. It even led me to become the President of our school’s Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) chapter. During this time, I learned the philosophies of how to treat customers and the importance of establishing repeat customers. I would even say I had a great comprehension of these and other business lessons given I made it to multiple National
DECA competitions, winning region and state, and then graduated from one of the top business schools at The U (http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-miami-1536). Because of this, I was completely blindsided when GM not only refused to remedy an issue they caused, but made it extremely disheartening to be a customer. Since I don’t believe in blind following let me explain what happened.
March 2015: The Letter
While everything started in 2013, the best place to begin this story is in the middle. It was like any other day, I had just gotten home from work and your mom went to check the mailbox. As she came into the house, among all the junk mail, she noticed I had mail from GM. She admits she almost threw it in the trash, but something told her to give it to me. I don’t fault her for almost throwing it away because the letter looked eerily identical to junk mail asking to buy your car because there is a shortage. While I sat next to her feeling you kick in her stomach (she was 6 months pregnant with you), I read that my ‘08 Chevy (Road Warrior) could experience a loss of 3rd, 5th and reverse gears due to a faulty wave plate in the transmission. The letter also stated that GM would reimburse customers if you have already paid for “REPAIRS” if they submitted a claim (http://www.gminsidenews.com/forums/f53/2007-2009-6spd-gm-extends-wave-plate-coverage-10yr-120-000-a-199849/ ). I was excited and angry upon reading this. Excited because I knew I had paid for two repairs that fit this description and angry because it opened up an old wound that I thought was healed. Now, let’s go to the beginning.
June 2013: The Beginning
It was a sunny and breezy Friday evening after work in Cape Canaveral, Florida that I remember vividly. I was driving over the Banana River on HWY 404 headed to Patrick AFB to meet up with your Godfather at the Officers Club to….um… network! Yes, yes, network…over a few beverages. As I was driving, I felt my car jerk and skip. I immediately thought I hit something in the road, but when I pressed the gas the car revved without accelerating. At that point, I knew my transmission was done. After the long tow truck wait and the long ride to the dealership, I spent the next 6 days in a rental car and bombing rides waiting on Road Warrior to be fixed. During that time I was also wondering how much this was going to set me back financially. I had only been in the Air Force for ~2 years and after buying furniture to be a real adult I did not have enough time to create a significant ‘Rainy Day’ fund. According to the GM report the “engine will not accelerate. Engine revs and transmission is slipping. Internal transmission failure” and they “remove[d] and overhaul[ed] transmission”. It set me back pretty hard, but since I kept up with all my routine maintenance and now had a warranty on my transmission, I thought I was in the clear for a while, but then..
September 2013: You Took Everything
Yes, you read that correctly, three months later I found myself in a similar (no no no) the same exact situation, but worse. Oddly, your Godfather was involved and like before it was on a Friday evening. It was a calm, cool evening after work and we were making the 2.5 hour drive to Miami to complete the second half of our 2 week ACC vs SEC College Football extravaganza. The previous week, we road tripped to Clemson, SC, Death Valley, and watched his Tigers take down the University of Ga. and now we were on our way to see The U take on the University of FL which marks the start of Food and Football. (https://outerspacedad.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/football-food-week-1-2016-the-u-vs-famu/).
We made it to Miami and were literally pulling into Abuela’s driveway when I felt that oh so familiar jerk and skip. Immediately, I knew what was wrong and was beyond upset because I needed Road Warrior to execute the weekend agenda, but I knew it was covered under warranty so I wasn’t stressing. Thanks to Abuela and Mami for using their cars, we had a great weekend, but after another tow, Road Warrior was back at the dealership, this time in Miami. Talking with the GM rep, Mr. Erickson, I was ensured that if it was the same issue (and I was positive it was) the work would be covered, but they had to look at the transmission first. A day later I got the call and like a punch to the stomach, the rep told me that it was a different issue and the repair was 1.25 times greater than the first repair. Knowing that my ‘Rainy Day’ fund was had just taken a devastating hit 3 months earlier, I was stressing trying to figure out how to pay for this repair. My only realistic choice, without borrowing money, was to withdraw money from my retirement IRA (it is never too early to start planning for that) and deal with the tax penalty during tax season.
Your Godfather and I were able to make it back to Cape Canaveral with a friend I knew from college that was also heading North after attending the UM vs UF game as well. While Road Warrior spent the week in Miami; for me, it was another 9 days in a rental car and bombing rides. Back in Miami the following week, the GM report from the dealer stated that the “transmission will not accelerate. Revs and sounds like slipping with an internal transmission fault” and they “remove[d] and rebuilt the transmission”. Now I am not a mechanic nor did I major in English, but these descriptions are basically identical with the use of a few synonyms. It felt like the Miami dealership took the report from the Cocoa dealership and scrolled through a synonyms list to edit the report to avoid plagiarism. Needless to say, I was beyond upset, but I felt like there was nothing I could do. The dealership said it was different, so despite the reports being basically identical, it was different and my money was gone. Now that you understand why I had the mixed emotions on receiving the letter let’s go back to the present.
April 2016: Put the Plan in Motion
After hunting down proof of payment by contacting the Miami dealership and searching through years of bank statements online, I had everything required to submit the claim. I started the process with the local dealership in Houston since we had changed duty stations in this time frame. I submitted the claim for both repairs, but the dealership stated that the report for the June (Cocoa) repair was not detailed enough (mind you, I didn’t write it, the Cocoa dealership did and they could have contacted them to clarify) and suggested that I should work this issue through GM’s Reimbursement Office. Looking back, I should have got this in writing, but the GM rep, Rodriguez, stated that it shouldn’t be an issue because the repairs look identical and was surprised I had to pay for them both. After submitting the claim for the September repair, I contacted the GM reimbursement department and opened a case.
May 2015: Patience is a Virtue
In accordance with the department’s instructions, I mailed all the required claim documentation for the June (Cocoa) repair and then anxiously awaited the 10 weeks noted in their letter for them to respond. There was good news during this time period which was that the September (Miami) repair was reimbursed. It was very timely given you would be here next month and we were still missing things needed for your arrival.
July 2015: It’s Over, When I Say It’s Over
After the wait period, I called the reimbursement department to get an update on my claim. I was given a case manager to assist me in the process, but no assistance was given. Every time I called, one of two things would happen. First, I would get the voicemail and have to leave a message. It was upsetting because the voicemail would state that my phone call would be returned in 24 hours, but that never happen. Second, I would call and get directed to another case manager who would make me explain the whole situation only for them to say they can’t help me because, you guessed it, they aren’t assigned to my case. I felt like they were trying to wear me down for me to just give up, but despite the fact I would have to leave my office every time I called, I kept at it. This phone tag game lasted for about a week and then I finally heard from the case manager in a voicemail (I have zero cell phone signal in my office). To my dismay, the voicemail was not the news I was hoping for. I was told that “It is only one reimbursement per code, so unfortunately the second reimbursement cannot be reimbursed for”. Followed by, “if I had any questions I should contact the dealership in Florida”. Obviously I was blindsided by this statement because nowhere in the official GM notice did it state that they would only reimburse one repair, in fact it said repair[S] (Language Arts 101: the “S” makes it plural which means more than one) and never mentioned anything about a “code”. I called back immediately to get a detailed explanation, but I was never able to contact the case manager again. I attempted to elevate the issue, but I was told that I had to work through my case manager whom nobody could locate. I honestly thought the situation was over and I was just out of luck. I thought it was over, not because the issue was resolved, but rather because GM decided it was over, but then…
Aug 2015: Time for Counsel
During a routine conversation with Brother A, I told him the story and how GM just ceased all communication with me the month prior without a real resolution. He switched out of his friend hat and put on his lawyer hat and informed me that I had a good case if I wanted to pursue a resolution through the legal system. I quickly jumped on the opportunity to get a real resolution and now that I had someone in my corner, I was ready to fight. Not only for the reimbursement, but to get closure on the wound that was opened in 2013 and the feelings of being ignored, bullied and ran in circles by GM. However, things got worse…
September 2015: The Demand
Over the next month, when we could both find time, we (well Brother A, I just fed him information and drafts and he put his lawyer spin on them and made them official) worked on our approach. The first step was a demand letter. In summary, the letter stated that his client (that would be me ) was wronged and GM was legally obligated to reimburse for the second repair based on the contract established in their letter. In closing, it stated that if GM did not respond, that legal action would be taken promptly.
After sending the letter to GM the waiting game commenced again.
October 2015: The Counter Punch
Shortly after the demand was sent, we got a response from GM. I know I have been caught off guard throughout this whole story, but this one took the award for best blindside. The response from GM’s legal department stated that they had reviewed all the supporting documentation and came to the following conclusion. First, I would not be reimbursed for the June (Cocoa) repair and second, I should not have been reimbursed for the September (Miami) repair. The rationale behind this claim was that it did not meet the requirements in their “Special Coverage” policy. When Brother A asked about this ‘so called’ special policy, we were directed to read the letter they mailed me in March 2015 that started this whole process.
November 2015 – April 2016: Trust the Process
Given that their response did not resolve the issue, but in fact made it more mystifying, we stayed true to our word and started the process to take legal action. Trying to feel my way around the Texas court system was not a fun experience. In fact, multiple times I wonder if this was worth
the time and effort going back and forth to the court house. Filling out all the court forms was a mission and left me in the middle relaying information between the court and Brother A and at times required me to just give my phone to the clerk and let them just talk. One thing I did learn, being in the system is not where you want to be even if you are on the right side of the law.
May 2016: You Got Served
After months of treading water and fighting waves, I had everything to file a small claim lawsuit. As I walked into the post office to mail the citation, a feeling of excitement and nervousness covered me. This was such a surreal moment for me. Like most, I have made off the cuff comments like “yea you do that and I’ll sue you”, but I never thought I would actually be in a situation where I was actually suing someone. This story that has spanned
3 years was now in motion to officially be concluded for good or for bad.
June 2016: A Step in the Right Direction
Per the court, GM had 15 days to “answer” the citation. While I didn’t really know what would happen if they didn’t “answer” (I assume the court would rule in my favor), part of me hoped this fell through GM’s cracks and this would be over. However, a few days prior to the ‘answer’ deadline, I got a call from GM legal just like Brother A predicted. They explained that they wanted to settle the issue without submitting an ‘answer’. I’ll admit I was excited when I heard this. Not so much for the money, but that this journey was over. In summary, their settlement was to refund me for the repair. This would have been great a year ago when I first submitted the claim, but now, now it’s just not enough. I tried to meet GM halfway for the sake of a resolution. In addition to the repair cost, all I asked for was court costs and attorney fees. I took this offer to cover the repair as them admitting to being wrong since they had adamantly said NO over the years, I would expect them to stand their ground unless something had changed? I know you’re thinking “attorney fees? but that’s Brother A, didn’t he do this for you for free?”! Yes, attorney fees, I don’t believe in the “friend” hookup because if you believe in your friend’s skills and abilities and happen to need them one day, you should be their best full paying customer, but that’s a story for another day, so I digress. The rep had to call me back because they needed approval to accept the new conditions. The call back was prompt and as I listened I quickly realized that this journey was far from over. I was told that “GM would only pay for the repair and it was against their policy to pay for fees and damages”. I will admit that the rep seemed sincerely sorry and stated the obvious, that I did not have to accept the offer and that they would submit an answer and that was exactly what happened. So the story goes on…
July – October 2016: Lost in the System
After receiving the ‘answer’, the long wait for a “speedy trial” began. I was honestly disappointed in reading their answer because it basically said nothing. We sent a 6 page citation with exhibits detailing the entire story and their ‘answer’ was 3 sentences that stated GM wants to settle, but since they are offering less than what I asked for in the citation they request a court date. Over the next several months, I contacted the court house fairly regularly to get an update. I was told I would not go to court earlier than 6 months from when the ‘answer’ was submitted which put a resolution possibly in January 2017. My biggest fear was that I would get a court date after we moved to our next duty station and I would have to fly back to deal with this. This was only second to me losing, which is a possibility.
November 2016: Light at the end of the Tunnel
On one of my random visits to the courthouse, I would get better service in person than over the phone. I was told that due to the low cost of my claim I would probably be given court appointed mediation. True to the clerk’s word, within the week, I received a notice in the mail to contact a local mediator over the next 10 days to schedule a date within the month. Thinking to myself that the end is near, I quickly tried to contact the mediator. After a few days of calling, I finally got an answer. Per the mediator’s request, I supplied dates over the next month that I could meet. Between work, traveling for work, and the Christmas holidays, I only had 5 free days. The mediator took my openings and contacted GM for their availability. I was a little upset assuming GM got the same notice I did and wondered why the mediator had to hound GM for their availability when we were told to do the contacting. The next day I heard back from the mediator and true to form, GM did not accommodate any of the 5 days I provided. They only submitted 2 days during that period. Annoyed and reluctant, I moved things around to accommodate GM’s date. The mediator gave me the option to delay, but this would have put the appointment in Jan 2017 and if mediation doesn’t work I assume we would be back on the courts waitlist. Being back on that wait list rebirths the risk that we would move before this is over.
December 2016: The Last Chapter or Just Another Chapter
Preparation for mediation has been very nerve wrecking and unsettling given I’m in uncharted territory. I have been playing out different scenarios in my head and how I would respond to each aspect of the case. I’ve prepared a cost summary to justify every dime I’ve asked for and it has even got to the point where I am debating my wardrobe. If one of my days had been selected, my plan was to go in business attire, suit and tie. I was trying to avoid wearing my Air Force uniform to avoid appearing as if I was looking for the sympathy card because I served in the military. I don’t believe I am owed anything for choosing to serve, not even a “thank you.” However, now that I will be going to mediation during the work day and have to return to work right after, I have no choice. But as Mami explained it, “you’re taking time from your job to deal with this mess that was handed to you, meaning you don’t have time to go home and play dress up to ensure that your uniform does not present an unintended bias.” Outside of cost summaries, wardrobe debates, and running scenarios, my mediation prep has also birthed this post. I felt it best to capture my emotions throughout this 3 year
roller coaster for the mediation and I also wanted to share it with you so you’ll know why I’ll never buy from GM again. This journey started when Mami was 6 months pregnant with you and you’re now a year and half. Hopefully by the end of the year this will be resolved and I will have a happy ending to share, but until then I will continue to fight for what is mine.
TO BE CONTINUED…