A mere 539 days after one of his Mr. Lube employees botched the oil change in my car by stripping the oil pan plug, 443 days after I filed a claim against him in small claims court, and 71 days after he avoided a trial by offering to settle, Donald (aka Matt) Rowswell finally made good today on his word and delivered a cheque for $500.
That was the amount I agree to accept to settle my suit – far less than I claimed, less even than the $600 repair – but a figure I could justify to end the matter without the expense of going to trial.
To be accurate, old Donald/Matt didn’t deliver the cheque himself. He had his paralegal representative, Ronald Trachy of St. Thomas, swing by and deliver the money.
In the nearly 15 months since I sued Donald/Matt, I have never heard from him directly. His company, variously known as Cardoc or Caradoc Enterprise, operates two Mr. Lubes in London, at Oxford & Wonderland and at Highbury & Cheapside.
When I first noticed an oil slick forming in my garage, I naively expected the fine folks at Mr. Lube to pay for the repairs performed by real technicians at Leavens Volkswagen, the dealership where I bought the car.
That was the first time old Donald/Matt gave me the brush off. He didn’t return my calls. Instead he had his right-hand man Mike Morrow call and offer to pay half the cost of the $600 repair. As you can read about at length below in posts detailing the entire series of events, Mike told me part of his job was “to make sure you don’t talk to him.”
Eventually, I got to set eyes on Donald/Matt at a settlement meeting in small claims court Jan. 30, 2015. He was there because he was required to attend as part of the lengthy small claims process. He let his esteemed legal representative do the talking and never addressed me directly. We didn’t reach a settlement that day, so the court set a trial date of May 12, 2015.
The looming trial date prompted Donald/Matt to make an offer of $500 on May 11. In a moment, I’ll explain why I accepted and what happened at the closed-door settlement conference, but for now I’ll note Donald/Matt continued his honourable behaviour by waiting 71 days to finally pay up. And that was only after I threatened to refile the claim and have the court set a new trial date if he continued to stall. His idea of “a reasonable period of time,” which is what’s required to pay a settlement is much like his idea of “a quality oil change,” i.e. open to interpretation.
Since I began writing about this process, I’ve received a lot of emails and tweets from people across the country unhappy with their Mr. Lube service. Some have asked if they should sue. Obviously, one lesson is that the process is long and finicky. If the other side doesn’t take your claim seriously and misses the deadline to file a defence, don’t be surprised if the court rubber-stamps an extension. As you can read below, I actually got a judgment against Cardoc/Caradoc in June, 2014, because Donald/Matt hadn’t bothered responding within the required three weeks. But that was set aside when legal beagle Trachy asked for, and received, a mulligan.
When he finally got around to filing a defence, it turned out to be both entertaining and fanciful. Read Part 6 below to see the long list of laughable defences Mr. Trachy cooked up for his reclusive client.
Throughout the process, I wondered if the Mr. Lube folks were reading my accounts of the suit. I had my answer in the first minute of the Jan. 30 settlement hearing. Mr. Trachy, resplendent in a three-piece suit, asked the presiding justice of the peace to instruct me to apologize for referring to him as a “paralegal flunky” on this blog.
The JP, whose name I don’t recall, said I might well have to apologize if I were a lawyer. But since I’m not, there was no need to apologize, and the settlement conference continued for more than an hour.
I wasn’t allowed to discuss what was said there until the matter was settled or went to trial. Here’s where I will offer a bit of advice to anyone contemplating a small claims suit: Even if you’ve filed all the paperwork yourself and know every detail of the case, you should take a paralegal with you to the settlement conference.
I thoroughly enjoyed the hour. I took every opportunity to needle the other side about the various – and numerous -- mistakes in the papers they had filed to that point. When you can’t nail down the correct name of your company, I think you open yourself up to some ridicule. I took great pleasure in trying to annoy the other side, and in the moment it was a lot of fun. However, it probably reduced the chances of a settlement, both that day and in the many weeks that followed.
The moment I rejected a settlement in that meeting, the JP filled out the forms to set a trial date and informed me I would have to produce a list of witnesses. Since I had neither any witnesses nor a coherent plan for a trial, I quickly realized I might have been better to accept a settlement, even for less than I thought was fair.
That’s when I turned to paralegal Steven Keyes, a terrific guy who took over the process leading to the May 12 trial date. He assured me Ronald Trachy is a fine fellow. Assuming he’s right, I’m left to infer the delaying and stalling tactics of the last 15 months have come from his client, old Donald/Matt.
Again, I’ve never spoken with Donald/Matt, so I have only his actions by which to judge him. And by that standard, I’ve concluded he’s not someone I would let change the oil in a patio lantern, let alone my car. Besides ducking me at every turn, he filed a motion with the court blaming everyone but himself for the general chaos within the Cardoc/Caradoc empire when he missed the deadline to file his defence.
In a court document, he said a “lack of communication” meant my suit “was not brought to my attention in a diligent manner, and that through no fault of my own I was unable to respond in a timely fashion.”
To which I say: Poppycock.
By the end of May, the deadline by which he was required to respond, six weeks had passed since his right hand man, Mike Morrow, offered to pay half the cost of the repair. When I turned that down, I told him I would sue. What are the odds Mike didn’t bother to mention that to old Matt/Donald? And then on May 5, when I served the papers, the store manager, Jerry DeLyzer, made a phone call before accepting them from me. Whom do you suppose he called? His mother? Donald/Matt’s mother?
I’d bet all the Mr. Lube coupons that arrive in my mailbox this year he called Donald/Matt or second-in-command Mike Morrow. But, I’d only be guessing.
What I know for certain is three weeks later, when he missed the deadline, old Donald/Matt was quick to throw his employees under the bus, blaming them for not keeping him informed about the fact he was being sued.
And then, after agreeing to pay $500 to settle the matter, he didn’t produce a nickel until I moved to put the matter back on the court schedule and proceed with a trial.
Maybe he’s just a really busy guy, running his two Mr. Lube franchises and all. Or maybe he’s always out of the room when they give out the ethics awards.
The only thing I know for certain is I won’t ever frequent his business again. I now get my oil changed at Leavens VW, where I bought the car. It’s not quite as convenient, but it costs less. And, of course, I’m confident the technicians there can install an oil pan plug without stripping the threads.
For the whole story, scroll down and read my earlier posts. Thanks to everyone who has followed the saga and offered support. May all your oil changes be hassle-free.