VANCOUVER -- A B.C. man who accidentally severed a natural gas line and then balked at the repair bill has been ordered to fork over $3,400, despite claiming the FortisBC crew that responded had wasted time "shooting the breeze."

The ruling by the province's small claims court underscores the importance of following FortisBC's oft-repeated TV ad slogan: "Call before you dig."

Ryszard Szczepanski admitted he damaged the gas line back in August 2019, and did not dispute that he failed to contact FortisBC in advance to ensure he wouldn't be interfering with any underground utilities.

He also accepted responsibility for covering the costs of the repair – but refused to pay the subsequent invoice for $3,217, arguing to the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal that the bill was far beyond the "value and time" of the work involved.

"Mr. Szczepanski says that the repair costs were higher than they needed to be because the crew 'took advantage' of the situation to increase their overtime pay," tribunal member Lynn Scrivener wrote in her decision, which was posted online Tuesday. "He says that, despite the length of time the crew was on the site, it only took them about an hour and a half of work to fix the gas line."

Szczepanski said the rest of the crew's time was spent milling around, chatting and breaking for a meal, and that he feels "cheated as a customer," according to the decision.

FortisBC noted the employees were working overtime because Szczepanski cut the gas line on a weekend, and highlighted the complicated nature of responding to potentially dangerous gas leaks.

"FortisBC says that, when there is an emergency situation like the one here, its crew does not know what to expect until they arrive at the site," Scrivener wrote. "The crew attends as a unit even though every member may not be required at all times. It also says that the crew does not decide whether a customer would be billed for their work."

Because a repair was completed and Szczepanski admitted he was at fault, the tribunal determined the onus was on him to prove he was overcharged. Scrivener said he failed to provide evidence that the repair should have taken less time – or that the crew "deliberately slowed down on the job in order to gain the benefit of additional overtime pay."

He was ordered to pay the full repair bill, plus $175 in tribunal fees and $36 in pre-judgment interest, for a total of $3,429.

FortisBC asks that people check in before doing yard work – anything from building a deck to "even just planting a few perennials" – by calling the BC 1 Call hotline at 1-800-474-6886.