Wedding Not Paid/Requesting Refund

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by kayla_beal, Nov 13, 2012.

  1. I need some legal help or advice in general. I booked a wedding in February of 2012 of which the bride paid a $450 retainer which was half of the total cost of the wedding. (Engagement session, wedding and reception) I had her sign a contract which clearly stated that the retainer was non-refundable for any reason and the full amount owed was due two weeks prior to the event date. The wedding was scheduled for October 27th, 2012. Total payment was due to be in my hands on October 13th, 2012. On October 18th, I received a facebook message that she was going to send payment and wanted to verify the address. It also states in the contract that if the payment is late, a $200 late fee will be added to the total cost of the wedding. I told the bride that the payment was supposed to be in my hands by October 13th and she was late. She did not make arrangements to pay, but immediately demanded her deposit back. I kindly referred her to her contract. On that same day, after I told her that her deposit was not refundable, she filed a claim with the better business bureau. I offered to refund her deposit minus the cost of services and expenditures already provided to her. I already photographed her engagement session, spent hours editing her images, and sent her the digital files on disk, which she already used and published in the local newspapers. Her deposit was $450. Her balance would be $83 after I subtracted all of the work I provided to her. She made no arrangements to pay me the rest of the total before the wedding. She claimed she had been trying to contact me (At a wrong number) yet, I have messages from her through facebook in June, then nothing again until October 18th. Obviously she did not try very hard to pay off her balance. On top of all of that, it clearly states in the contract that any and all changes must be made in writing, signed by both parties and attached to the contract. When she sent a copy to the BBB, she only sent them the first page, where she had WRITTEN in, "Payment due by October 20th, 2012" and she claims she never received the other pages of the contract. Should I be concerned here? Do I need to retain an attorney? Should I go ahead and refund her the $83 even if she denied it through the BBB? Any and all help would be appreciated. Thanks!
     
  2. While I don't believe the bride has gone about things the proper way I can see some of her concerns. For one thing I wonder about your $200 late fee for her being 5 days late. A bride a few weeks before her big day is not always rational and can lose track of things, were you on top of her in the days leading up to the 13th for the payment. One bill in the list that accumulate with a wedding can easily be missed perhaps it was an accident. Since she apparently did try to pay 5 days after the date but you were now charging a 22% late fee for five days I can understand her being upset, especially since she has already put $450 down. In the end it was in the contract and if she indeed did forge a portion of a contract to send to the BBB then that is a serious offence and you probably should get legal help outside of photo.net. But in the future I think I would handle your late fees differently as a sudden unexpected $200 bill at that point can be shocking to an already stressed person. I have only done a few weddings so perhaps I'm not the best person to comment but thats how I see it at least.
     
  3. I actually did not even ask for the late fee at all. As soon as I said her payment was late she immediately demanded her deposit back. And when she did that, I referred her to the contract. Nothing was ever mentioned about the late fee. The point here I guess I should have said, is that she is trying to change the contract after the fact and has reported me for a contract that I upheld. I think I will retain an attorney just for my own peace of mind.
     
  4. Ah yes I miss read that part. When I read it to me it looked as if the late fee was one of the first things you mentioned. In that case yes I would definitely retain an attorney. The $83 refund I would hold onto, I feel by refunding her you could give her the feeling that she is right in the situation. Though I still believe rather than referring her to the contract you could have just ignored the fact it was late, was there any indication before that this bride might take offence to something so simple?
     
  5. Not at all. She was beyond satisfied with her engagement session and photos and used them. She also stated in the complaint to the BBB that she was under "financial burden" and it sounded to me like she just didn't have the money to pay. I would have gladly driven half way to meet her for payment, or made other arrangements, she just immediately went to wanting her deposit back. The whole thing is very odd especially with the handwritten part on the front part of the contract about it being due on a different date and her not including the full contract to the BBB.
     
  6. I wonder if money was already an issue, and so she's pitching a fit as a disguise. That sounds like (I only have one side of the story) a serious overreaction. I've had that, too. A misunderstanding that immediately was turned into "I'll sue you." What? Why can't a civil conversation be held to clarify things? I don't know about your bride, but mine told lies, and threatened my business, all with the intention of getting something she hadn't paid for. I think $ is at the root of it, and if you can afford it, yes, get an attorney. I don't know what the procedure is, but I would think one could get that "offense" taken out of the BBB if you could prove fraud and ... craziness!
     
  7. I have cooperated with the BBB to try to come to an agreement with her. I sent them the original copies of the contract in it's entirety. That was the last I heard from them until today when I received an email that the bride had denied my request to rectify the situation by my returning her $83 out of the deposit. So I guess I don't know if I need to respond yet again to the BBB stating all of the same things I have already said or not. It's confusing. I'm not even sure what they are there for. Will they tell her to either accept or deny the request? Will they tell me if I need an attorney? What is their real purpose?
     
  8. Good question. Check Yelp, too, and make sure she isn't going crazy. Find out the slander laws!
     
  9. You do realize the BBB is just a company, and has no more authority in dispute settlement that your 3rd cousin in Miami, Florida.
    Time for you to google BBB.
     
  10. Agreed, the BBB is nothing. Matter of fact if you send them $450 to become a member they will forget the whole thing. :)

    -Hal
     
  11. First off, I wouldn't worry about the BBB. Also you can dispute this. The BBB will actually help both parties and you can still remain with an A+ rating. So that part is taken care of for you right now. Forget about the BBB; that will work out in your favor.

    With the difficult times we are in I almost always let the Late Fees ride. Well I can't run your company nor your contract policies. Contracts can always be amended or even thrown out and redone. It's just a piece of paper.

    However, IMO it is very bad practice to write emails and even worse using facebook to conduct business and even worse talking about money.

    So I have to ask you this important question. Are you afraid of confrontation?

    Booking a wedding through emails is like a person buying a house and doing everything through emails. It's just not right.You are conducting a business. Lot's of photographers will disagree with me. I expect that, but we are always booked up. The only time we are free is during the late season of December, so we photograph business parties. We average around 125 jobs, not just weddings per year. Most are referrals. The telephone is our favorate photographic accessary! We even have toll free numbers, because once or twice a season we have to travel somewhere.

    In your situation use the phone. A real telephone, no texting. That often infuriates the heck out of all parties, the B&G, the parents, bridesmaids, future referrals from the couple, and everyone thats been exposed to due to a silly $83 dollars, even you are part of this. Wow! To keep peace, I'd refund them the $83 plus some sort of certificate or a good luck gift, a frame, anything you want, a Starbucks gift certificate. Actually I go to Starbucks pretty much everyday, so in 3 or 4 weeks thats about the sum of $83. Thats also about $100 less then what I charge per hour at a wedding. I think after expenses I'm over $300 per hour, most of it coming from reorders.

    When doing your taxes write off the $83 plus the gift, as a business loss. A CPA will surely take care of this and post it in the correct section.

    Heck I'll send you the $83, just so that you don't wreck any form of referrals and keep the relationship with the couple happy with no hard feelings.

    I know through shooting weddings from the late 1980's, geez thats a long time. Photographing a wedding is the easiest part by far. Money, albums, reprints, too many photo's, too few photos, the parents aren't happy, you forgot to take a photo of the grandmother, no ring shots, well you get the idea. Long story short, photographing weddings is a blast, the trouble is when someone opens their mouth. Thats when the fun ends.

    When there is a money issue and talking on the phone doesn't work, meet at Starbucks, your house, there house, the White House. In person to get rid of the stress so everyone has great times and you get future REFERRALS.

    Smile, take a moment for yourself. You deserve it. Tomorrow will be a great day.
     
  12. @Bob - The challenge - even if she calls the bride, which I think is excellent advice by way, is that the offer of $83.00 has already been made through the BBB and rejected by the bride to be. Even adding a gift card, which if the bride is indeed going through tough times, probably isn't going to satisfy the bride.
    As pointed out the BBB is a company, plain and simple. Unless you agree to allow them to arbitrate the dispute, they have no jurisdiction or authority. They can threaten you with a lower rating all they want, and as others pointed out, a check will make that go away.
    As for agreeing to let the BBB arbitrate - DON'T DO IT. You have better odds at a small claims court.
    I would advise printing all copies of correspondence with the bride and creating a file to keep them in. I would also try as Bob suggested to call the bride directly and explain the $83.00 figure to her. Do not attempt to collect any late fees or additional money. And keep a record of any conversations with her. Also, if the BBB comes back and says she is offering to arbitrate through them, politely refuse that and say since you are not a member, you will not be using their service.
    As for a lawyer - I would find one through legal aid (if you don't have one already) and discuss this case with them. My guess is that most will say your contract is valid, and that the amounts you are deducting are fair and reasonable for services performed. Stick with the $83.00 offer - and find out from your lawyer if you need them in small claims court. Some states allow counsel, others do not.
    The advantage of e-mails vs voice conversations are that you have a written log of the conversation. With f2f or phone - unless you record the conversation, you don't have a record of it - other than yes, we talked. It then becomes a she said/she said thing and you are leaving it up to the judge / arbitrator to determine who is telling the truth.
    As for referrals, contrary to what Bob says and believes, I seriously doubt that this client will give you any at this point.
    As a side note - since the wedding was to have taken place in October, and that is now passed, did you actually photograph the wedding? Did the wedding happen?
    Note - this is not legal advice and I am not an Attorney. I am a business person and a photographer.
    Dave
     
  13. If I understand the situation... I would have sent her another invoice for $650 (the $450 balance + $200 late fee) and hauled her into small claims court. You lost money that will never be replaced, she broke her contract, and on top of that has sullied your good name.
    In the future, I would rethink how you conduct the detail portions of your business.
    1) I wouldn't give into threats. Do whatever you can to document correspondance whether done through mail or email.
    1B) make a list and keep it in a binder for each job. List all phone converstaions. List emails. I would physically mail any correspondance having to do with monies and document it with an adult signature guarantee requirement. I agree with Bob, phone calls only when conducting business and follow up with it in writing. Emails get lost in SPAM folders, ignored,etc..
    2) Let ths be a lesson learned... I would start a wall of shame and post her image and frame the BBB complaint so that you see it every day. This will always be a reminder to run your business as a business.
    3) Quit being a wimp. You just cost yourself $650 on top of the stress and on top of the bad WOM you would have gotten anyway.
     
  14. In my non-photography day job, I have seen hard working honest people go broke, dishonest people go broke, and stupid people go broke. And if you let them, they ALL will take as much of your money and hard work with them...
    Over time I have learned to get paid upfront or max out my markup, so that the few time I break my rules and I'm inevitably left holding the bag... it's less painful.
    Every business in every industry gets their share of knuckleheads. In the end, unfortunately it will always be my/your fault for taking on the business.
    Just learn to be firm and fair and aware and stick to your negotiated terms. The meeting you have with your client should be as much you interviewing them as much they are looking at you. Have the strength to turn down a job. Knuckleheads typically find somebody else to bother.
     
  15. If you need legal advice, you'll have to go see an attorney :)
     
  16. The BBB will actually help both parties...​
    Not in my experience. They send every complaint no matter how ludicrous or self-serving, make no attempt to verify a customer's allegations and continue to send "I've rejected the retailer's reply" messages over and over every time the complaining customer presses the button.
    They don't arbitrate, they don't mediate, they don't offer or suggest compromises or resolutions. We get complaints, we reply, they're satisfied.
    YMMV
    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video
     
  17. Henry -
    I actually was on the other end of a complaint (not involving Photography or photos) that I took through the BBB some 20 years ago. (things may have changed)
    I filed a complaint, the BBB forwarded on to the company (A large 2 letter car maker in Detroit), they came back and offered binding arbitration. Like a fool, I accepted. Showed up for the appointment at the same time as the other party. The arbitrator greeting him by name, asked how the wife and kids were and then said - we'll get started as soon as the customer gets here... I knew I was done at that point.
    The hearing was a formality, the arbitrator found in favor of the company, even though I had significant evidence that a) I could not have done as the company wanted b) that there were numerous complaints similar to mine all at similar mileage and c) that had the company provided the information that the mechanic I went to asked for - he would have solved the problem in about 2 hours.
    Ever since whenever anyone mentions the BBB I break out in a rash.
    Dave
     
  18. As a side note - since the wedding was to have taken place in October, and that is now passed, did you actually photograph the wedding? Did the wedding happen?​
    That is exactly my key question. Aside from the BBB, demands for returned deposits, and conversations w/ the bride, did you actually shoot the wedding?
    Her Facebook (if she hasn't de-friended you yet) would likely certainly indicate whether or not the wedding actually happened, regardless of who shot it (if you didn't).
    As far as I'm concerned, her failure to pay the remainder puts her in breach, and you are not required to shoot the wedding (aka provide the contracted services). ...but... The 'late fee' just adds complication because it implies that you will accept payment at a later date (and therefore doesn't clearly define a late/non payment as a breach - since a 'non-payment' could be considered (by a court) just really really late). Additionally, confusion can revolve around returned deposit terms. I would revise your contract to omit the late payment, and make crystal clear the deposit return terms (was there any business you turned away because you were booked, for example? - could you succesfully rebook? (unlikely in this case obv.)) which would make things a bit more cut and dry if it ever came to a court visit.
    - oh, and make sure you put page numbers clearly on the contract (ie. "Page 1 of 2")
    The simplest solution would be to send her a certified/return receipt letter w/ a money order (I'd prefer cash) for the amount you say you owe her. Then worry about the BBB crud. Your repayment is reasonable, and make sure you include a receipt detailing your calculated costs (deductions from the $450). Then you are done.
    Personally, I don't offer a refund on the deposit at all unless I rebook, then I deduct any 'costs' from it and send it back (only happened once so far)
    As David says...
    Note - this is not legal advice and I am not an Attorney. I am a business person and a photographer.​
    ;-)
     
  19. I absolutely did not shoot the wedding but it did take place. I spoke with an attorney and he said worst case scenario, she can try to take me to small claims court, at which point, she will lose. I was instructed to send back her $83 by certified mail so I have a copy of where she signed for the letter. I was also told to ignore the BBB as they can do nothing legally.
     
  20. This type of situation seems to be occurring more and more with young brides. The problem is most couples, and I will speak from my own experiences, have a tendency to make you chase for what ever balance is left. I had to wait a full year in order to receive a balance from a couple I shot their wedding back in October 2011. As far as making a big stink about it, that is also typical of people who don't wanna pay up. The slandering is illegal and depending on what your contracted stated, if she is breaching the terms of that contract she is the one at fault here. Ironically it seems to be those who are looking for the bargain shooter that seem to be the most skilled at complaining.
     
  21. The 'late fee' just adds complication because it implies that you will accept payment at a later date (and therefore doesn't clearly define a late/non payment as a breach - since a 'non-payment' could be considered (by a court) just really really late).​
    A critical issue.
     
  22. With the wedding over and out of the way, hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and she will accept the $83.00 and let it be.
    As was pointed out, the fact that you add a late fee and accept late payment, could be a critical issue if this goes to court.
    Worst case - you could be found in breach - since a) you never received written notice of cancellation, b) your contract allows for late payments and c) you did not shoot the wedding - even though apparently there was a contract in place.
    Best case - the court finds that she breached by a) not paying the balance b) by not formally cancelling, even though that appears to be her intent and c) by asking for the full deposit back.
    You did the right thing by seeking an attorney, who appears to have given you some sound advice so far.
    Again, I'm not an attorney so not legal advice...
    What I would recommend is that you remove the late payment language and replace it with something to the effect of: "If full and total payment is not received by xx/xx/xxxx then the retainer will be forfeited in it's entirety and the photographer will not be responsible or liable for any further demands under the contract."
    Also, just as a CYA in the future - if a bride calls and says the wedding is off or I want a refund or whatever - without a signed, written notice from the couple, I'd recommend showing up at the wedding venue at the agreed upon date and time - ready to shoot, just in case. That way even if the bride / groom don't show up or if they do show up and ask what you are doing there - you can at least tell the court that you attempted to carry out your end of the deal.
    Dave
     
  23. Your attorney has the right of it.
    I kind of figured they had lined up someone else to do the shooting, most likely for less than the remainder owed to you (maybe a friend, family, or CLer), and that led to them 'cancelling'
    ...but to protect yourself in this situation, w/o a clear, and specific communication (as David suggests, signed is probably best, though personally, I've accepted email + return email & a telephone confirmation) requesting cancellation, unless there is a clear and specific breach on her part, your responsibility remains the same.
    Remember, it's your contract, and how you define a breach is largely up to you (within reason ;-) ). Just make sure you do define a breach, and it's resulting repercussions - specifically! ...because people tend to think of 'failure to pay' is kind of a 'default' breach, but it leaves you on tenuous ground unless that is specifically stated in your contract, leaving things up to the clients imagination (or creativity ;-) ) is usually a bad thing.
     
  24. I absolutely did not shoot the wedding but it did take place. I spoke with an attorney and he said worst case scenario, she can try to take me to small claims court, at which point, she will lose.​
    That isn't the worst case scenario. Even if the case is slid, so called 'slam dunk' small claims cases go awry all the time and often with no appeal.
     
  25. FWIW i did portfolios for models.
    it was in the '60's. The going rate for the photos or what the models could earn was a trifle. i could not compete with an established pro, who had a price for a shoot, that was so low. i decided not to compete with the low price but set what i thought was a fair price. Every time that there started to be problems, i raised the price.It worked, the bargain hunters are the problem.
    Weddings.i approached it in the same way. i was tired of running after my money, i had enough chasing publications and newspapers for s l o w payments. Paid in full after my Love/story engagement photos, that included as much of the bride-groom and family. If a problem was there, we did not gel, it was too big a job, they weren't "happy" with the first photos or paying in full, we were done.They could keep the proofs. Free. It was a cheap and smart way to get rid of future problems.
    By shooting and getting to know the couple, i was in a very advantageous position by the time the actual wedding date arrived. i knew everybody, well almost all, were on first names and "they" knew they could ask for this or that. Many of my wedding couples, families as well as bar/bat mitvas, confirmations, anniversaries all became actual friends.
    If a job starts badly, it ends worse.
     
  26. Not a lawyer here: but if it were you and you made a bank loan payment five days late -- with a $200.00 penalty -- I'd guess you would not be a happy customer of that bank.
    You need to look into treating your customers as you would like to be treated. A business needs positive feedback from your customers....
    [Had it been me...I'd have photographed the wedding, and held the images close until the lady paid up the other 1/2 of her agreed on price.]
     

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