Situation: You take your new green dress to the dry cleaner to get a stain out. When you pick it up, the stain is gone; so is the green.
What should happen: Despite the waiver on the ticket that says the cleaner is not legally bound to accept responsibility for damage, most cleaners will―provided the mistake was theirs. (If the garment company supplied improper care labeling, it might not be the cleaner's fault; in that case, you should go to the store where you bought the blouse to complain about the label.) If the cleaner does accept the blame, the International Fabricare Institute (ifi.org) has standardized values that determine how much you will be reimbursed.
If you're getting the runaround: In a situation where the store says it has never had a problem with the garment's care label, and the dry cleaner still won't admit fault, find out whether the cleaner belongs to a trade organization, such as the IFI or the National Cleaners Association, which can help mediate disputes.
2 of 6Monica Buck
Taking a Spill
Situation: A waiter at a fancy restaurant leaves an indelible impression―in the form of a wine stain on your favorite blouse.
What should happen: The restaurant accepts responsibility, and the manager gives you his card and offers to pay for the cleaning. For on-the-spot damage control, "I always keep some Wine Away in the closet," says Richard Breitkreutz, acting general manager of New York City's Eleven Madison Park, winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service. If the stain doesn't come out after dry cleaning, the restaurant should offer to buy you a new blouse. Send the cleaning receipt, your dinner bill, and a quote for a new blouse to the restaurant manager or owner.
If you're getting the runaround: Should the restaurant management put up a fight over reimbursing you―and you're talking about expensive clothing, not your Chi Psi Casino Nite 1988 T-shirt―you may need to take this dispute to mediation or small-claims court.
3 of 6Monica Buck
Situation: The 10 wineglasses you ordered finally arrived―in about 150 jagged pieces.
What should happen: Once you report the problem (call the company's 800 customer-service number right away), most large retailers will offer to deliver replacements for any damaged glasses. In some cases, they'll also arrange for the delivery service to pick up the damaged goods.
If you're getting the runaround: File a claim with the shipper (UPS, for example). If it doesn't remedy the problem, take up the issue with your credit-card company. Your liability shouldn't exceed $50; most credit cards will reimburse customers for the cost of any damage above that.
4 of 6Monica Buck
A Bad Meal
Situation: There's something wrong―terribly, six-leggedly, two-wingedly wrong―with the food you ordered in a restaurant.
What should happen: Whatever is wrong with the food―from the proverbial fly in the soup to an overcooked steak―the right thing for the restaurant to do is to offer a replacement, and deduct the cost of the offending dish from your bill if the problem is really off-putting. In any case, the diner's perception should never be questioned, says Breitkreutz. If you suspect something was wrong with your food only later on―that is, you wake up the next morning with food poisoning―the situation is less clear-cut. "A lot of people think that the last place they ate caused them to get sick," says Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who has handled giant civil cases against Jack in the Box and the juice company Odwalla. "Generally that's not the case." Symptoms of salmonella poisoning, for example, typically appear one to three days after exposure; symptoms of E. coli usually appear after three days. The restaurant should offer to have the kitchen inspected and notify you of the results. In the meantime, you'll need to go to the doctor for testing to pinpoint how and when you became ill. If your meal at the restaurant is to blame, you can file a complaint with the local health department, which will dispatch an inspection team. You can also send the meal receipt, your medical bills, and any claim for lost wages―along with a copy of your doctor's findings―to the restaurant and ask for restitution.
If you're getting the runaround: Notify the owner or seek help from your local office of consumer affairs.
5 of 6Luca Trovado
Situation: You've just landed in Dallas for a big business meeting. Your luggage, meanwhile, is taking a vacation in an undisclosed location.
What should happen: Avoid the line at the baggage-claim desk by filing a missing-luggage report over the phone instead, suggests consumer travel-rights lawyer Alexander Anolik. "Each passenger takes 15 minutes to fill out the forms, and the guy behind the desk is like the cop who's been demoted to the worst beat," says Anolik, who is also a coauthor of Traveler's Rights: Your Legal Guide to Fair Treatment and Full Value (Sphinx, $22, amazon.com). If you're away from home, some airlines (Southwest, Northwest, and US Airways) will reimburse you up to $50 a day for toiletries, clothing, and other necessary expenses. If your bags never show up, you're legally entitled to a total reimbursement of up to $2,500 for a domestic flight, if you can show receipts, though the airline will not reimburse you for such items as lost electronics, jewelry, or cash. You usually have to wait five days before you can claim your bag is permanently lost.
If you're getting the runaround: File a complaint with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division at the Department of Transportation. In rare instances, writing to the airline's president or head of marketing may also help you get compensated.
6 of 6Monica Buck
The Neighbor's Dog Attacks
Situation: You're out for an evening stroll when you're ambushed by the meanest miniature schnauzer on God's green earth, with a bite every bit as bad as his bark.
What should happen: The owner should apologize and tell you when Otto was last immunized against rabies. He should also give you his name and phone number. (Get the names of any witnesses, too.) If you have obvious injuries―do you see blood anywhere?―the dog's owner should also offer to pay medical expenses. If it's your child who has been bitten, tend to the medical necessities first. Then take a step back before laying blame, suggests Mary Randolph, author of Dog Law (Nolo, $15, amazon.com). Did your kid take the pooch by surprise? Was he pulling its tail? While you'll no doubt be upset, try to be objective, too.
If you're getting the runaround: Report the dog to the local authorities, which in many states follow the one-bite rule: After one reported bite, an owner is responsible for any financial costs to the victim. If there are further reports, the dog can be put down or the owner fined or criminally charged. You may want to report the dog, anyway, especially if you discover that other people in the neighborhood have been bitten.