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The question

I’m looking for advice on a difficult situation. I spent $7,400 on my daughter’s braces. We kept going back to point out a variety of mistakes. Finally, we met with the orthodontist to get our money back. He said we could end the contract, but it had to be fair to him. Actually, he had gone past the contract, and her teeth were still crooked. We went to pick up a cheque, but it was only for $1,800. We turned it down. Can you help me please?

The answer

I think we’ve all had an experience where we’ve engaged someone to perform some service and that person underperformed, dragged their heels or flat-out screwed up.

The most notorious example being, of course, contractors.

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Everyone seems to have a contractor story. One woman I know is currently taking her former/fired contractor to small-claims court. Even he admits he underperformed and overcharged. But, as in your case, when it came to restitution, his offer was underwhelming. So down the rabbit hole of small-claims court she goes.

Good luck with that. Here’s how small-claims court works.

“Bang!” goes the judge’s gavel as he rules against the contractor. “Poof!” goes the contractor as he vanishes. “Woooo” as he ghosts you. “Jingle jingle” goes the money that stays in his pocket.

(Rule of thumb: When dealing with contractors, only cough up 30 per cent until the job’s done.)

Of course, it works both ways. I recommended our trusted, long-time contractor to a friend (friend no more) and for hazy/crazy reasons she stiffed him. After working his tail off for her for months and buying all kinds of materials (trusting her because she was my friend), he was out of pocket for a considerable sum.

I’m not a fan of stiffing hard-working people. I know someone who stiffed a birthday clown because he felt the clown underperformed at his kid’s birthday party.

Poor clown. Probably a struggling actor trying to make ends meet. Humiliating enough to be a birthday clown, making balloon animals, capering around in big shoes trying to amuse a bunch of bored kids – but then to have the whole day be a financial write-off?

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That clown must have cried himself to sleep that night.

Anyway, it’s a moot point in your case, because orthodontists are far too savvy to get stiffed.

I phoned several orthodontists’ offices to ask how the payment scheme usually works. Essentially, it’s either a) the orthodontist estimates total cost and you pay up front, or b) you pay 30 per cent up front, then make monthly payments.

Either way, they make sure you’ve paid in full by the time the job’s done.

I asked if there were ever cases where a dissatisfied client got a refund. Literally (and I’m not someone who says “literally” when he means “figuratively”) every time I asked this question, there was a long pause on the other end of the line before I got a response.

That response? Short answer: no. Long answer: um...no.

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The consensus was, roughly, if you’re unhappy with your orthodontist’s work, you should go in and talk to said orthodontist and explain the problem. Most reputable orthodontists will try to fix it.

Me: “Will they do that for free?”

Long pause: “It depends.”

Otherwise they will refer you to another orthodontist.

Me: “In that case, is there any kind of refund?”

Another long pause. Short answer? No.

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Sounds to me like you were lucky to be offered anything at all.

And in your shoes, I would forget about small-claims court.

Also, the orthodontist who fixed my son’s teeth back in the day (they’re beautiful now) claims cases where the orthodontist flat-out screws up are extremely rare – that far more often it’s the client who has failed to do their due diligence – e.g. attach the rubber bands to the braces, wear the headgear at night, etc.

So I hope this isn’t disappointing advice, but the bottom line is as follows. Look into your soul, ask yourself if you kept up your end of the orthodontic bargain; give up on your dream of full financial restitution, and either keep going to this same orthodontist until your daughter’s teeth are straight, negotiating payments throughout, or accept the $1,800, look upon it as a lesson learned and find someone who can do the job right.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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