Bed check: couple ticked by $2,300 mattress

"I didn't pay almost $2,300," Ruby Keffer declared, "to have the springs popping." Keffer is describing the Kingsdown Body System 3 mattress set she and her husband Randy bought from Mattress Gallery in April 2002. "It's defective, and they need to replace it." It may be defective, but replace it? Kingsdown says no– because of a 3/8"-inch blood stain.

About two months after they got their new mattress and box springs, the Keffers began hearing a popping sound in the mattress's springs. This was especially annoying because Randy works nights and Ruby works days, and the noise made it hard for one to get in and out of bed without disturbing the other. "It was awful," Ruby says.

She claims that it took several months to get Mattress Gallery to address the situation; either she would be put on hold and then cut off– which, she alleges, was blamed on problems with the phone– or her messages would be ignored. Eventually she did get through, however, and claims she was told she would have to deal with Kingsdown directly.

Kingsdown customer service dispatched an inspector from Bed Chek, the independent company they (and other mattress manufacturers) use to evaluate customer complaints. The inspector's report, which is dated January 6, 2003, lists two findings: a "3/8" dark stain near [the] end of one surface" and "coil unit noise, from border toward sleep area."

"Border rod is bent along that border," the report continues. "All other border rods are straight. Customer said that mattress has been turned, but appearance seems to indicate that it has not been turned." Under "Remarks," the inspector wrote, "There is coil noise along one edge of mattress only, where get in/out of bed. Border rod bent along this edge. I believe noise is a result of this area and as a result of Mr. Keffer being above average weight, in my opinion."

Two factors come into play here; one goes against the couple, and the other is in their favor. Randy does indeed weigh more than average, and his weight could have bent the rods– which, according to Kingsdown marketing associate Amy Brannigan, are not covered by the warranty. On the other hand, if the Keffers turned the mattress, as they claim they did, his weight would not be the culprit (because he would have used both sides of the bed).

Any chance of a judgment call on that issue, however, was wiped out by Finding #1: that 3/8" blood stain. Mattress warranties, I now know, are voided by stains, burns, or soiling, and this is true throughout the industry. According to the letter the Kingsdown Warranty Committee wrote the Keffers on January 15, "Stained mattresses are not eligible for replacement. We apologize that your Kingsdown bed set has proved to be uncomfortable for you and you are not satisfied; however, we are unable to replace your bed or offer any recourse."

"We hope you continue to look kindly upon Kingsdown," the letter concludes.

I went to Mattress Gallery and spoke with manager Zeke Cox, who was surprised to hear that the Keffers claim to have had so much trouble communicating with the store. "There shouldn't have been" such a situation, he said, and added that customer service is important to him.

We discussed the issue of stains and mattress warranties, and although Kingsdown's Brannigan had told me that "health regulations" are to blame for the ban on replacing mattresses with stains, no matter how small, Cox said that the real reason is that whatever caused the stain can also cause coil deterioration. I can understand that a certain volume of liquid could indeed cause mattress springs to rust. But a 3/8" blood stain?

So what's a consumer to do? Cox stated that the store carries a line of mattress pads guaranteed to prevent mattress staining. The Keffers bought their bed set, however, before Mattress Gallery started selling them.

I stretched out on a Kingsdown Body System 3 while we talked, and boy, is it ever comfortable. Ruby Keffer agrees: "I love my mattress, but I want them to replace it."

Cox said he'd be willing to arrange for a second inspection. If the verdict gets overturned, I'll let you know.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.