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Consumer Kept Waiting, Got Dough

November 20, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ You stay home from work, maybe even take a precious vacation day, to wait for a sofa to be delivered or the cable television line to be installed, or a plumber, and you wait and wait and wait.

Bhaichand Patel knows that feeling, but now he also knows how it feels to get a day’s pay, $305.92, from a telephone company that failed to keep an appointment.

Last year Patel took a half-day off from his job as director of the United Nations’ information department to have a telephone line installed at his Manhattan apartment.

He waited until noon. Nothing.

He waited some more. Still nothing.

So he went to court.

Patel explained that since he came from the Fiji Islands and liked to go back to visit, his time off was not a thing to be squandered.

When a New York Telephone Co. lawyer asked Small Claims Court Judge John E.H. Stackhouse to dismiss the case, the judge refused, saying: ″Since I place great value on my vacation days, it’s difficult to convince me that they don’t have any value, counselor.″

″My lawyer friends told me that it just wouldn’t work,″ Patel told The New York Times. ″But I was just angry, so I tried, and it did.″

New York Telephone spokesman Steve Marcus said the case was a fluke.

″The Public Service Commission regulation says we’re not liable (for such a no-show) ’in the absence of gross negligence or willful misconduct,‴ he said.

In Patel’s case, Marcus said, there was a good excuse: the phone installer was diverted to help fix a cable that had broken in the neighborhood.

He said the company would have prevailed on appeal, but did not attempt to because Patel, in the meantime, had left the country.

Two months ago Patel contacted the company, asking for his $305.92 judgment. He got it, but Marcus said similarly situated plaintiffs would not be as lucky: ″Our firm policy is to appeal.″

Patel’s luck may be over. He now lives in New Delhi, India, which has one of the world’s worst municipal telephone systems. More than a million Indians are waiting for telephones and it usually takes about five years to get one.

Marcus said New York Telephone is hit with more than 50 such suits a year, ″the vast majority″ of which are dismissed at trial or on appeal. ″This case is unusual, if not unique,″ he said.

The company schedules between 7,000 and 8,000 service appointments a day. Its technicians fail to keep about 250, Marcus said, usually because some jobs turn out to be more time-consuming than expected.

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