Wine Whining (When Wine Spillage Goes Terribly Wrong)

by admin on March 6, 2012

A forum friend (granddaughter here) told this story, hoping for some advice. Her grandma holds poker parties and at these poker tournaments everyone drinks. One of her guests, granddaughter’s BFF’s fiance, accidentally spilled an entire glass of red wine all over grandma’s light beige carpet (almost white). Fiance felt terrible about it and spent an hour trying to clean it up. The wine was everywhere. It looked good when they left and they offered to come back with a steam cleaner to clean it again.

Here’s the issue: grandma asked granddaughter to ask her friend and friend’s fiance to pay her $250 deductible because grandma filed a claim with her insurance to get new carpet. Best friend and her fiance haven’t had a chance to use the steam cleaner yet.

Some background: The friend and her fiance had been to grandma’s house at least 5 times for these tournaments and know her well. Grandma is the type of person who would look for an opportunity to make someone else pay for something. Granddaughter tried to talk her out of the deductible idea and said that the fiance was really sorry and that he would definitely steam clean it. Granddaughter is embarrassed and doesn’t want to be between family and a good friend.

The stain was huge. But it was barely discernible after the hour of elbow grease in cleaning it. But grandma said it must have soaked into the pad because the wine bled through again. It’s a 6 year old carpet, so granddaughter knows that grandma sees the opportunity to get a new carpet.

An item of interest: grandma drank too much at granddaughter’s house last Thanksgiving and vomited all over her bathroom and her wall. She didn’t ask grandma to pay for anything. I don’t know if grandma cleaned it up. 0301-12

To set the stage for my reply, a few comments….

How well the wine spiller knew the hostess is irrelevant to what is required of the guest to do to remedy the problem.
Whether Grandmom was a greedy money grubber in the past is not relevant to the matter at hand.
What happened at Thanksgiving between Grandmom and another hostess is not relevant to how fiance should resolve the problem he has created for his hostess.

Grovelling apologies followed by a rapid clean up was the right thing to do.  However, the final resolution on how to remedy the problem lies with the hostess/homeowner.   Guests who spill spectacular amounts of staining liquids onto carpets or irreplaceable items in the house are obligated by etiquette to replace it.  Ditto if the guest breaks an object belonging to the host who considers it valuable.   It must be made new again or the host compensated for the loss.  The host has an opportunity to wave off these sincere offers from the accidental guest but if the host does not, the guest does have an obligation to carry through and replace what he/she damaged.

{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

Merriweather March 6, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I have to disagree with Admin as well.

I have honestly never heard of any rule of etiquette or law that says a person who damages an item is expected to replace it with something newer and better, rather than simply have it professionally cleaned or repaired, simply because the owner does not want to have it cleaned or repaired but would rather have it replaced with new.

Would it be reasonable, should a person spill wine on your suit, to demand they replace the suit, rather than paying for you to have it drycleaned first to see if the stain will come out? Would it be reasonable to demand a person replace your car, on the premise that the body shop would never be able to get the dent out correctly?
Even in etiquette, surely old-fashioned common sense has a place.

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Sugaryfun March 6, 2012 at 11:41 pm

I would NEVER expect a guest to pay for something they accidentally damaged! It happens. The only time I might expect that is if was someone doing something you had repeatedly asked them politely not to do which is likely to damage something (like say, eating spaghetti bolognaise while leaning over an expensive, out-of-print book to read it. My brother in law did this with predictable results, sigh).And I agree with previous commenters that cream or white carpet is kind of asking for trouble, especially if you serve red wine.

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Cat Whisperer March 7, 2012 at 2:09 am

Admin says: “…But if a host expects full compensation for damage, the guest should pony up and then conveniently find him/herself pre-occupied should there be another invitation to the host’s house.”

I think that most of the disagreement on this topic is at what point “full compensation for damage” becomes unreasonable shakedown for money, using using etiquette as the stick to mug the guest and get more compensation than is reasonable.

I find leveraging etiquette and people’s reluctance to appear crass or boorish as a way to manipulate people into unreasonable actions is detestable, and itself a violation of good manners. Yes, a guest who damages property of his hostess should have the courtesy to compensate his hostess for the damage. But only to the extent that compensation is reasonable: the moment the hostess leverages the situation to extort more compensation than she’d get under the law, she becomes etiquette violator and the person who committed the damage becomes the victim.

Reality demands that when you recognize that someone is using the conventions of good manners and courtesy to manipulate others for material gain, it’s time to recognize that the rules of etiquette are superseded by the rules of law. Civil law is very clear: monetary damages are limited to actual loss that can be documented by evidence. You can’t demand that someone who has damaged carpet that was 6 years old pay for a whole new carpet. That would be ridiculous.

I disagree with administrator that if someone is using conventions of etiquette and courtesy to try to extort money from you, that you’re obligated to be shaken down and that your only (polite) alternative is to pay what the extortioner demands and then end your social relationship with that person. I believe that if someone is trying to extort money from you by implying you’re boorish and crass to disagree with their assessment of what your obligation is, you can politely refuse the extortion and politely request that the matter be arbitrated by a judge.

In either case, the practical consequences are the same: the social relationship of the parties is probably kaput. But I believe that when someone uses conventions of etiquette and courtesy wrongly for personal gain, it’s important to take a stand and refuse to let them get away with it. JMO.

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MellowedOne March 7, 2012 at 6:44 am

Agree Cat Whisperer. Reminds me of countless court-tv cases I’ve seen where the plaintiff is trying to seek damages above and beyond repair cost. Without fail the judges deny the amount sought.

FWIW, even though these cases are not actual court cases but matters of arbitration, the decisions are made by actual judges, using the laws of the land as the basis for their decisions.

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Laura March 7, 2012 at 8:25 am

Reading the comments about the inadvisability of light colored carpet made me laugh, as it made me remember that as a new mother I picked such a light-colored carpet for baby’s nursery. Needless to say, said carpet within a few years bore no resemblance to its original color!

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Chocobo March 7, 2012 at 9:31 am

Admin, I have to disagree with you there. A gracious and polite hostess wouldn’t demand full compensation in the first place, as though her guests are contractors who’ve accidentally put a hole in the floor while trying to install the new toilet. A hostess knows that accidents are a part of the hazard of hosting. A guest should always offer compensation as much as possible, but within reason. Billing them for hundreds of dollars is not what I would consider a reasonable request.

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Margaret March 7, 2012 at 9:54 am

Why isn’t it relevant that Granny is a money grubber? Reputation DOES matter, and in Granny’s case, it now makes her demand for $250 suspect. Furthermore, the vomit incident gives a pretty clear picture of Granny’s true feelings about the responsibilities of a guest. I like my etiquette tempered with a little karma.

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June March 7, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I’m glad someone pointed out what I was thinking, but it bears repeating: she let him scrub it for an HOUR?! I honestly hope that was an exaggeration.

I wonder if when they “haven’t had a chance” to get the steam cleaner yet, they’re dragging their feet. I’m a case worker and I get a lot of vague, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that….” from clients. We typically respond, “Ok, let’s schedule it for xxx afternoon.” If they said they’d rent a steam cleaner or whatever, they should be held accountable to that.

Let’s hear what the insurance company has to say about this!

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Roo March 7, 2012 at 2:16 pm

@Cat Whisperer

Totally agreed, and as long as we’re discussing legalese, there’s such a thing as assumption of risk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assumption_of_risk). Grandma routinely serves her guests glasses of red wine while they walk around on her precious white carpeting; she cannot be overly concerned about a spill or she wouldn’t allow this in the first place. We own a single white chair, and I have no problem at all politely asking guests to please not sit on it while drinking red wine, eating chili, etc.

Think of it this way – if you broke a vase in someone’s home during a dinner party, that would be a faux pas. If you broke a vase in someone’s home during a rowdy living room pillow fight that they themselves started…not so much.

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Enna March 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Grandma is unreasonable, she should have asked for the person who spilt the wine to pay for the dry cleaning at the most. A beige/white carpet in my view is asking for staines. As for Grandma throwing up – if she cleaned it up then that’s good. However Grandma should treat people the way she wants to be treated.

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Cat March 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm

I would pay the money and make a habit of drinking water if I am ever asked back for one of these little parties.

I am not impressed by a granny who thinks an accident is a good opportunity to soak a guest and the insurance company for new carpet, but it’s up to the insurance company to decide if the claim is valid.

I have had guests break expensive things but I never had one apologize or offer to replace it. I had a friend and his son stay at my vacation home for a month while their home was being constructed and left me to pay the electric bill for their stay.

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swiftlytiltingplanet March 8, 2012 at 3:38 am

Like @hannahere, etiquette questions aside, I’m trying to figure out how you get an insurance company to pay for new carpet (with or without deductible) for a red wine spill. Really? Insurance coverage for a stain? It seems to me that grandma is just looking for $250.

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Kariachi March 8, 2012 at 9:09 am

Let me just jump on the bandwagon here for a minute-

SHE LET HIM SCRUB FOR *AN HOUR*!?!?!?

That’s just… How… Why… *I’d* sit on the floor scrubbing for an hour in the middle of an event before I let a guest do it, whether or not it’s their mess! Holy fudgemuffins! And then expecting them to pay for a new carpet?! Grandma needs a brain scan or a reality check, one or the other.

Also, this is why my family doesn’t do carpets, it a lot easier to clean wood/tile/stone/laminate.

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Rachel March 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I would like some new carpeting in my house also….so all I need to do is throw a party, give people alcohol that they will spill, and the insurance company will buy me new carpet?

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Enna March 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm

@ Cat I don’t know the coversation rate of pounds into dollars but $250 sounds a lot to me. Grandma should take the offer of the steam cleaner. A pale carpet is an unpratical choice in my opinon espcailly if the home owners likes serving red wine.

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c March 8, 2012 at 6:00 pm

If granny regulary serves red wine at her parties, she is assuming a reasonable risk that is will be spilled. She should be compensated for the cost of professionally cleaning the carpet not a whle new carpet.
If this fails her requirements, I would no longer be attending her parties for fear that any other accidents would result in supplying her with new upgrades.

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violinp March 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I have to concur with previous posters who said the grandmother was unreasonable. Forcing a *guest* to scrub for an hour would be beyond the pale to me. If I were the hostess, I would scrub for an hour, because it’s my house – a guest should apologize and offer to pay for cleaning, but that’s as far as it should go.

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livvy17 March 9, 2012 at 10:31 am

Unfortunately, this is one of those situations that no matter if both parties are behaving properly according to etiquette, that the feelings of both parties are damaged, because of their different viewpoints on what is “reasonable”.

Granny should definitely make her own negotiations, directly. Personally I feel that she should work together with the guest to allow the guest the opportunity to make things right with minimal expense, but I can also see the logic where she could reasonably think that: 1)steam cleaner won’t cut it, 2)it will be messy and time consuming to give the guest the opportunity to do it, 3)Guest might decide that HE is satisfied with the clean up, even if granny isn’t, and therfore think his duty discharged, even if the carpet isn’t clean enough in Granny’s opinion, and 4) Granny will have missed the “opportunity” to get a new carpet for what a professional cleaning would have cost anyway.

Personally, I would deal with the stain on my own, and think of it as “party cost” (unless guest did it deliberately, etc.), I can see Granny’s point of view too.

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Moralia March 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I’ve never heard of homeowner’s insurance that would cover carpet stains. If it were a valuable antique Persian rug with it’s own policy, maybe. But paying out to replace an old carpet with a red wine stain? Sounds fishy to me.

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Shea March 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm

If you serve red wine, it will spill. If you have light carpets, either assume the risk that something can happen or ask that all darker beverages be consumed in a “safer” area, such as the kitchen, away from light carpet/upholstery, etc, or that only light colored foods/beverages be consumed.

I find it mortifying that anyone throwing a party would demand repayment for an accidental spill. If the owner finds that her only acceptable solution is to have the carpet replaced, that’s on her. The guests offered to try to clean further (btw, a few dabs of hydrogen peroxide will also help get red wine out of carpet, though a small, inconspicuous area should be tested first), but were refused. If the carpet would otherwise be replaced anyway, I’m not sure why another effort wasn’t accepted.

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Mabel March 11, 2012 at 7:16 pm

I agree with Cat Whisperer and other posters. Certainly the guest was mortified by his mistake, and he tried very hard to rectify it. Grandma cannot hit him up for a new carpet before she even tries the steam cleaning. If the cleaners do the entire thing, she might not even NEED a new carpet. I hear that process is pretty amazing.

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erica September 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm

If I’m hosting weekly wine parties I would expect for a glass or two be spilled.

I don’t feel grandma should be asking her GUEST to pay for anything.

It wasn’t as though he purposely poured it on the carpet..it was an accident. Sometimes they are no one’s ‘fault’.

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