Consumer Alert: A surgeon’s heartbreak. What we all can learn from his experience with a local contractor

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — If you own a home, you likely had to hire a contractor at some point. Perhaps you needed some painting, roof work or drywall repair. But one viewer who reached out to me is now homeless after hiring a contractor. His home is in shambles, and he’s living in an Airbnb. His story serves as a cautionary tale for us all.

Dr. Michael Diodato was a successful surgeon who grew up in Rochester and was working at a hospital in Arizona. On Dec. 4, 2018, his life forever changed. That morning he knew something was very wrong.

"I woke up and my legs just didn’t feel right,” Dr. Diodato said. “They felt sore and tingly. They just didn’t feel normal.”

By nightfall, he couldn’t walk. Diodato had a staph infection attacking his spine with such virulence he’d be hospitalized for more than 6 months in what doctors thought was a futile attempt to save his life.

"My sisters got a phone call saying that they need to come down to claim my body," Diodato recalled.

Somehow Diodato survived but can no longer walk. His sisters convinced him to move back home to Rochester and remodel his dad’s old dental office, converting it back to a house that would be handicapped-accessible.

"I looked on CraigsList and I got several estimates," Diodato said.

He hired contractor Don Warner of Warner’s Home improvements on July 5. On Nov. 3, Diodato called his contractor.

"I said ‘Don, I’m coming home tomorrow. Can you tell me how much of the place is done?’" he said, "‘We’re just in the final stages; we’re at least 90% done,’" Diodato remembered.

But when he got to Rochester, he found the house was nowhere close to completion.

“I cried. It’s actually worse now than it was before," Diodato said.

He called the Better Contractors Bureau to evaluate the work.

“There’s amateurish mistakes,” said Excaliber Property Inspection Service Larry Owner Licherdell. “No professional would leave a job like this."

Licherdell inspected Diodato’s home and wrote a scathing report pointing out poor craftsmanship and gross code violations like outlets installed upside down and over a sink. National Electric Code mandates that outlets have a ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI six feet from water to prevent electrocution.

But the BCB says the most shocking discovery was in the basement where electrical wires were left dangling over two tubs of water.

"I said, ‘I don’t believe it,’" Licherdell remembered exclaiming after he saw the hazard. “I do not believe that somebody could do that."

So I called contractor Don Warner to ask about the BCB’s assessment of his work.

“Now substandard I can’t help because I wasn’t able to fix anything that was still needed to be done because I couldn’t finish it. I don’t know what to tell you,” Warner said. "When I reminded him that the BCB had deemed the quality of substandard, he disagreed. ‘My work was good,’ he insisted. ‘Anything that I did was good. The only thing is that things couldn’t be finished. That’s all.’"

Warner insists Diodato locked him out of the home so he couldn’t finish. But Diodato said the contractor abandoned the job and left a note demanding more money. Diodato refused, having paid him $39,500. Diodato is now without a home, broke and broken.

"All I wanted to do is come home and be near my family," Diodato said tearfully.

Diodato’s story is a cautionary tale for anyone who needs to hire someone to work on your home.

Before you hire a contractor, here’s Deanna’s Do list.

  1. Get at least three bids.
  2. Do a background check, like checking the Better Business Bureau.
  3. Ask for proof of insurance.
  4. Get a written contract. The Better Contractors Bureau has provided an example of what it should look like.
  5. Never pay full price upfront. The BBB suggests paying a third up front, a third in the middle, and a third at completion.
  6. Report problems to the BBB, the Attorney General’s Office or the Better Contractors Bureau.