Update: Robert Mercer, director of public relations for DirecTV, told Hair Balls, via e-mail, "This was obviously a terrible mistake, it should never have happened and of course we apologize to the customer and his family. This is clearly a case where common sense and reason should have trumped rules."
The Leeder family recently found out how DirecTV does business: The company will not, under any circumstances, break a contract or waive cancellation fees, even if you've had a stroke and will never need the service again, unless you complain on Facebook and Twitter.
That's pretty much the way it went down after Robert Leeder, an 87-year-old World War II veteran who lives outside of Conroe, suffered a stroke that paralyzed half his body. Leeder moved to a nursing home, using his Veterans Affairs Benefits, Social Security and a small pension, according to his son Andre.
"It's something that you just don't think of until it hits the fan," Andre Leeder tells Hair Balls. "If we don't get some of this paperwork nailed down, it could be not good. This could cost people their houses, everything they've got."
The family had to handle a million details while moving Leeder out of his house, and one that seemed tiny at the time was canceling his DirecTV service. Andre called the satellite company to do so, asking for a final bill. The DirecTV representative told Andre that it wasn't a problem.
The trouble started when the family got a bill for $426, including a $400 fee for terminating the contract.
An e-mail exchange between Andre Leeder and DirecTV ensued. From Andre's e-mail:
Robert Leeder is my 87-year-old father. He has had stroke that paralyzed one half of his body. This has put him in a nursing home from which he will not return and no one will be living in this location. When I canceled the service I was not informed that he was under contract.
Under these circumstances, we would like to request for your company to credit the $400 cancellation charge to this account. I can provide Doctor's Certifications, if necessary.
And DirecTV's response:
I'm sorry to hear about your father's current health condition. I understand your concern with regard to the early cancellation fee...Since he canceled his service or did not maintain the minimum programming requirements, his account was charged with an early cancellation fee of $400. We feel this fee is valid and we are unable to waive it.
"I'm not surprised. It kind of seems like the norm these days," Andre says. "If you've got an insurance claim, they do the best to duck it. Nothing goes easy."
So, on Tuesday, Andre's wife Robin posted about her family's trouble on her Facebook page and Twitter account, basically saying that DirecTV would not allow Leeder to cancel his service, without paying the fee, even after he had a stroke.
"It set off a firestorm," Andre Leeder says. "There were hundreds of responses, and I'm talking within minutes."
Last night, Andre sent Hair Balls an update on the situation, via e-mail:
I spoke with Robin and she told me about her most recent conversation with DirecTV. Apparently, the intervention from DirecTV came from a district manager who saw her entry on Facebook. His commitment was to credit the account for $400...
DirecTV must have personnel dedicated to monitoring social media or no phone call would have been forthcoming. They obviously care about this ground swell phenomenon. I can see how once the cat is out of the bag, the dam will break and everyone with a beef will be up their collective corporate butts...
We haven't heard back from a DirecTV representative, but we'll be sure to update as soon as we do.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.