Couple wants a full refund, are threatening legal action

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by barbara_settles, Dec 2, 2014.

  1. Hello! I've been photographing weddings for 8 years now but this is my first time in this situation.
    I had a wedding a few weeks back. We agreed upon 8 hours of photography. We discussed shots and the time line ahead of time. They wanted to know appx how many photographs they'd receive and I told them I average about 100 images/ hour.
    We were set to arrive at the church by noon, have the ceremony at 1 and have from 2-3 for photos (it was a full Catholic Mass). Then the couple would arrive at the reception location where they and their families would decorate for the 5:00pm reception. At 4 I was to pull them away for some couple shots around the property.
    Here's how the day actually went:
    I arrived at the church at noon. The bride arrived (unready) at 12:50. The priest arrived at 1:50, thinking the wedding was at 2. The wedding went until 2:50. They had a receiving line. I began portraits at 3:20, and was told to be done by 3:30. We had to be out of the church. We rushed to the reception hall, the couple was stressed out and rushed around getting the reception hall ready. I finally was able to pull them aside at 4:45 for a 15 minute barely-light couple shoot that had parking lots in the background because they didn't have time to go anywhere else. Everyone was stressed, I stood around most of the day waiting and taking photos of the same 100 people... I left at my designated time.
    Their CD of all the edited images I have gave them only had 560 images on it. I'm sure you understand why. They didn't get all the images they wanted and the ones they did weren't "sharp" as they wanted. They claimed their Iphone took better photos than I did. They demanded a full refund.
    I sent an initial email, sorry they didn't like the images I've provided. I reminded them of the time crunch and told them that per my contract, they were paying me for my time and access to their images. I know I did quality work in the time I was allotted. I refused them a full refund. I got a reply letter stating they have contacted a lawyer and demand a full refund in 2 weeks.
    What, exactly, should I do?
     
  2. They contacted a lawyer, but a lawyer hasn't contacted you. And once that lawyer has read your contract and presumably
    the email you described, that lawyer is probably going to give the B&G the disappointing news that their failure to keep to
    the schedule wasn't your fault.
     
  3. Barbara - it sounds like you did the best you possibly could under those circumstances. It's good that you had a signed contract with them (sounds odd, but many photographers still do work on a handshake). I concur with the above response; do nothing unless their attorney contacts you (which I doubt he will, but you never know).
    About the worst that could happen legally is that you end up in small claims court. They tell their side of the story, you share your side of the story, the judge hears both then reviews the contract. I don't see how they could win based on what you've shared.
    All that said, if they go around and trash your business name it could do more harm than anything (depending on where you live, etc.). You might consider offering them a small token discount or refund for being unhappy with your work. If that makes it all go away it might be worth saving your time and aggravation.
     
  4. Maybe I'm getting cranky in my old age but I doubt they have contacted a lawyer and if so, he'll be in touch. I wouldn't worry another minute about it and for certain would not refund a penny. I suspect this couple does this sort of thing with other vendors and is just trying to get something for nothing while justifying their behavior.
    Rick H.
     
  5. Here's my interpretation, Barbara:
    The contract was fulfilled to the letter of the law - there was offer and acceptance, there was consideration; they paid in full, and there was performance; you delivered the images.
    The dispute is in the disagreement in the quality of the pictures and arguably the number of pictures where you in effect promised 100 images per hour on average but delivered 560 images over 8 hours.
    Being dissatisfied with the work performed is a legitimate customer complaint. Change the profession in question and you will see similar disagreements between a car owner and the dealer, a traveler and an airline, or a home owner and a renovation contractor - each with their own story and claim to be right.
    I don't think any of us can side with your version of the disagreement without first seeing the images, but it would seem to me that your customer is also not entitled to a full refund. However, a customer is always right from a business viewpoint so I would consider taking Chris' suggestion in his last paragraph, which will also serve to demonstrate that you have offered a reasonable compromise, in good faith, should the situation escalate toward litigation.
     
  6. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I sent an initial email, sorry they didn't like the images I've provided. I reminded them of the time crunch and told them that per my contract, they were paying me for my time and access to their images. I know I did quality work in the time I was allotted. I refused them a full refund. I got a reply letter stating they have contacted a lawyer and demand a full refund in 2 weeks.
    What, exactly, should I do?

    Nothing more.
    Continue in your Business as normal.
    Wait for either contact from the Lawyer and/or erroneous commentary that might appear on various websites. Knowing where you reside/work would assist future commentators on this forum give their opinion on your initial question and also should either of those other two circumstances present.
    WW
     
  7. What should you do? Nothing until their attorney contacts you. Literally nothing. You've already responded and delivered. Do not initiate contact and do not respond if they do.

    Hopefully you have all of your "agreements" in writing, and there are witnesses that can vouch for the delays and timng
    gaffes on their part.
     
  8. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    However, a customer is always right from a business viewpoint so I would consider taking Chris' suggestion in his last paragraph, which will also serve to demonstrate that you have offered a reasonable compromise, in good faith, should the situation escalate toward litigation.​
    I think that in Business it is wise to consider all options before making a choice.
    It is also seems to be a fact that there are some W&P Clients who will take every and any opportunity to complain and demand “a full refund” in the hope to negotiate from that standpoint. Anecdotally this type of behaviour appears (taking to various long time W&P Photographers and Studios) to be increasing.
    I think that there are many reasons; not the least of which is that the B&G signing the contract seems sometimes to not, in their view, lumber them with RESPONSIBILITIES, only RIGHTS – there are other reasons I think too: economy is tight in a lot of places people are on edge all over.
    From a business perspective I think that it is necessary to weigh up the cost of the choices and the question was asked as a business question, so in that regard another Photographer’s interpretation of the quality of the work supplied is not relevant: however the OP should make sure that the claims and statements that she makes are correct and all her ducks are indeed in a nice tight row and that her claims are not based on any emotion.
    Whilst in one interpretation (that of Ultimate Customer Service) the Customer is indeed ‘always right’ . . .
    On the other hand the Owner of the Business (or Director of the Company) has the first obligation to always Protect the Business.
    Taking a step to offer ANYTHING at this point in time will place the Business under un-necessary stress and jeopardy.
    WW
     
  9. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    TYPO -
    "It is also seems to be a fact that there are some W&P Clients who will take every and any opportunity to complain and demand “a full refund” in the hope to negotiate from that standpoint. Anecdotally this type of behaviour appears (taking to various long time W&P Photographers and Studios) to be increasing."
    should read:
    "It is also seems to be a fact that there are some W&P Clients who will take every and any opportunity to complain and demand “a full refund” in the hope to negotiate from that standpoint. Anecdotally this type of behaviour appears (my talking to various long time W&P Photographers and Studios) to be increasing."
     
  10. Not knowing the language in your contract it's hard to reply. When I was running my wedding business, I had language in my contract that included that the client acknowledged and agreed to a statement that there were no promised results and that intended results were at least partially dependent upon the subjects being photographed. I also had language that limited my liability including any and all damages, attorney costs, and costs of litigation to the sum total amount of fees and deposits. I always did print orders as a separate transaction with a separate sales agreement, that had the same language.
    My worst case scenario was realized with one client, which I refunded fully and while they threatened to file suit, the best they could sue for was what they had already paid me. They never followed through.
    The Wedding Business is tough. I don't know the language of your contract or what state you are in, but your contract is your shield. I'd wait for their attorney to contact you in your situation but you may want to consider hiring an attorney and having that attorney review your contract to make it iron clad.
     
  11. The client's complaint is that they did not get all the images they wanted and the images they did weren't sharp. This is not a complaint that they did not receive the number of images promised but rather you failed to provide images that they wanted and the ones you did get were out of focus. Why would you include out of focus images? That tells me that it just wasn't one or two but many. What are your shutter speeds on these images? Most likely its movement rather than out of focus images.
    You did not say if the 100 images per hour was in the contract but you did say you discussed it. I would never have in a contract 100 images per hour as you have experienced may not happen. Yes that is the basic formula though but things happen. I do however put in the contract will receive a minimum up to 500 images. To this day I have always shot well over 500 images.
    This just sounds like the customer was dissatisfied with your performance and quality of work which I don't think is something they can sue over. You did meet the requirements of your contract though so I would not worry about it. I would however take a closer examination to why your images are soft or out of focus and figure out what images you did not take that you should have taken. Lastly it is your job to come home with the bacon regardless of all the short comings of the days events. You have to make it happen and let them know before you leave what photos have not been taken and let them make the choice of what to do because once you leave its all over and nothing can bring back the clock.
     
  12. There has been a lot of advice about waiting for the lawyer allegedly contacted to make contact with the photographer. This is appropriate for when there is an announcement that a lawyer has been retained. Contacting merely means having some sort of communication. Even if true, it could be chatting with one on an internet forum or some idle conversation with a friend in the Public Defenders office or something. Indeed, in a low level and posturing situation like this, such a situation would be common and it would be unlikely a lawyer would be representing such a client in any event. I'm not sure if the advice given with this in mind.
     
  13. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    In the light of John’s comment; and if the words ‘I have retained a lawyer’ or ‘a lawyer is representing me’ or similar words were not used – then I would most probably respond to the second correspondence received from the Client with a simple, polite and firm reiteration of the Photographer’s first response.
    Maybe? - This second correspondence from the Client to the Photographer was (what we term here as) ‘a first letter of demand’ – in which case I would answer it.
    But I would also make sure that all my ducks were in a row and I was confident that there were few or preferably no holes in my contract in regard to this job.
    Also, it is worth mentioning that the conversation here, in this thread, is a little one sided: so perhaps the OP will return and clear up some of the assumptions/questions that have been made by those who have spent time to offer their advice and assistance.
    *
    Yes, John my response to the OP assumed that a Lawyer had ‘been engaged’: Thank you for drawing that to our attention.
    WW
     
  14. Wait for the Attorney and see what the demand from his is.
    Then consider 'a full return of all images, CD's and whatever' and signed paperwork that NO prints or digital copies of any kind were made or would ever be made - and you will refund their money.
    Let them get prints from the cell phone friends.
     
  15. I am a lawyer in private practice, and I agree with Rick, among others. They probably have not contacted a lawyer, and if they did, and told him the full story, he probably told them they had no basis for a claim. I would not do anything until you hear from their lawyer. When you get a letter from their lawyer, your defense is that you did everything required of you by your written contract, and the failure of the schedule to work was not your doing. In a contract, if you do everything you are obligated to do, then you have fulfilled your end of the bargain, and the other side has to pay you. I would urge you not to lose any sleep over it at this point. I would discourage you from attempting to negotiate with these folks, or to humor them, as I think you are simply being taken advantage of. If they had a legitimate complaint with you, that would engender different advice.
     
  16. +1 to what Bob said. Contracts cut both ways. You have obligations that must be met but so does the other party. If they fail to meet their obligations and by their actions or inactions they make it impossible for you to fully meet your obligations (and provided you can show that you made a reasonable effort to do so) then you can't be held responsible for the failure.
     
  17. There has been a lot of discussion about legal positioning, but one thing that has not been discussed enough is whether by winning in a legal sense you will lose in a business sense.
    Consider this from at least two perspectives. One is to ask yourself, If I negotiate some kind of accommodation with your client what will be the cost (dollars and possible bad publicity) vs. benefit (possible avoidance of bad publicity.
    The second is related to the first, but is worth considering separately. What will be the cost (in time an money) if you end up in a legal fight vs. what are the chances of winning, and what is the benefit of winning. Suppose, for example, it takes a day of your valuable time to fight this thing from a legal standpoint. I suspect that one day is a lowball estimate. Already it has probably cost you more in time than it is worth. If you hire a lawyer then you are talking about a lot more money. Depending on the lawyer, it could cost something in the neighborhood of $200/hour, and if the case goes very far you may end up with more than a few hours of lawyer costs, which would likely make the whole affair much too costly.
    I once engaged a lawyer. It was a much more complicated case that has few parallels with yours, but hear me out. The lawyer fees cost me an average of more than $200 per hour, and there were other expenses as well. I also spent untold hours of my own time of the case. By the time we reached a settlement with the other side I had spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses, and in the end I received no benefit other than an agreement that if the other side was successful in their business (which is actually unlikely) then I will receive some fraction of their benefit under certain circumstances. I doubt if I will ever see a penny, even though I was nominally the victor in the case. If it would have gone to court it would have cost me a lot more, and there is always the chance that I could lose in court.
    The point of this anecdote is that going the legal route may end up costing you a lot more than it is worth. A good lawyer might tell you the same thing, if he has your interest at heart.
     

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