Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: I have used a cleaning service for my home for the last three years. It's owned by a woman (I'll call her Beth) who started the business to support herself and her daughter. She has built it into a pretty good business -- so much so that she has had to hire additional employees to help meet her clients' needs. Her service is bonded and insured.

I recently discovered that about $25,000 worth of jewelry had been stolen from my home within the last six months. We reported the theft to the police, and they are investigating. The items were not insured (I know, my fault).

I told Beth what happened and told her the police would be speaking with her and the employees who cleaned our house. I told her I didn't think she was the thief, but perhaps it was the current employee she has assigned to clean our house or a previous one who is no longer with her. Beth was understandably upset. She said she would cooperate fully and help any way she can, and she informed me again that she is bonded.

I hope the police find my jewelry and the thief so this story will end here. However, if it is not recovered, my husband wants me to file a claim with Beth's bonding company for the value of the jewelry. The jewelry was well hidden, not just lying out, and one of the watches is rare and worth more than $10,000.

I found out that if I file a claim against Beth with her insurance company, that I will get my money back for the stolen jewelry -- but that Beth will be rendered uninsurable and unbondable and may lose her business. Yes, she could clean homes again without being bonded, but word would get out and she would lose clients and definitely not have the successful business she has built.

My husband and I are at odds over this. While I am devastated by the loss of my property and the fact it was not insured, I don't feel right taking an action that would cause Beth to possibly lose her business and her livelihood due to an unscrupulous employee. My husband argues that she should have vetted her employees better and that, as a business owner, she is ultimately responsible for who she hires and for who enters our home when we are not there.

I am asking for a neutral third-party opinion. Harriette, if you were in this situation, what would you do? -- Vacillating, Washington, D.C.

DEAR VACILLATING: This is a tough situation, and I understand your angst.

I would speak to Beth and tell her the choice you face. I would ask if she is able to reimburse you personally for the full amount or an agreed-upon figure -- in essence, if she will settle with you. If you are willing to settle for a smaller amount to recoup some of your loss without hurting her future, you may want to try that. But do remember that she is bonded for these kinds of circumstances.