Wedding Industry Law bio picture
  • Welcome to Wedding Industry Law Online!

    Wedding Industry Law is your online resource for legal news and education on running a wedding business. We hope you find the articles, videos, and information helpful. If you have any comments, news tips, or areas that you would like to see covered, please let us know!

    Wedding Industry Law is edited by Wedding Lawyer and Trial Attorney Rob Schenk. Contributing blogger Ayisha Lawrence also kicks out some of the jams, too.


Can I Sue Wedding DJ?

Case Study (Courtesy of AVVO)

Question (from anonymous in Delaware):

“What actions can I take if a vendor will not refund payment for services not rendered? Our daughter was married over the weekend. Everything went well, except for the DJ service. The day before the wedding the vendor instructed the groom to find another DJ. We entered into a contract with this vendor five months prior and wrote a check for a non-refundable deposit. The bride and groom filled out and returned the requested paperwork weeks before the wedding date. I made the mistake of sending a good faith gesture balance payment for the contract to the vendor a week before the wedding because his contract stated that the balance needed to be paid upon arrival. The check was cashed and cleared. We still do not understand why this happened. The vendor left a message on our answering machine stating that he made several attempt to contact the bride and groom and that they were not returning his calls. I have cell phone detailed records that show no incoming or outgoing calls recorded until the day before the wedding. Our home phone records and email support our attempts to contact this vendor. After months of preparation the wedding was successful and beautiful. I sent a simple letter to the vendor requesting a prompt refund of the balance for services not rendered…”

Response (from Attorney Rob Schenk):

“You will have a claim for Breach of Contract against the DJ for failing to provide the promised services as set forth on the contract that you signed. Most likely, it will be irrelevant that the DJ attempted to contact you to let you know he could not make the wedding beforehand. Once he promised to perform at your wedding, it’s as binding as you promising to pay him.

The issue will be whether this DJ has any money to pay you, and whether it would be worth your time pursuing. Our system allows plaintiffs to recover attorneys fees only in certain situations (this will probably not be one of those situations). A judgment against the DJ will simply be a piece of paper in which the Judge states “X owes Y $,” and unfortunately, if the DJ ain’t got no money, you have only something that you can hang on your wall.

Kindest Regards and Good Luck.”

Moral of the Story: This DJ is giving DJs a bad rap. Nuff’ said.

Can I Get Retainer Back from a Wedding Photographer?

Case Study from AVVO

“I’ll just color over that ‘Non-Refundable Deposit’ portion of the contract with a little Burnt Sienna…”

Question (from anonymous in Iowa):

“Getting retainer back from wedding photographer. Hello, we signed a contract with a photographer for my daughter’s wedding which required $750 retainer fee. Unfortunately 5 months before the date we had to cancel. The photographer is refusing to return the retainer fee. The contract only stated Retainer, it did not say Refundable or Non-refundable and this was never discussed in the initial conversations. He also says his lawyer says he can keep it regardless if it did not state if it was non-refundable because it is considered typical industry standard. Is this true and would I have a case if I took it to small claims court since it was never stated as non-refundable?”

Response (from Attorney Rob Schenk):

“You may be able to file a Breach of Contract action against the Wedding Photographer in Small Claims Court (or the Iowa equivalent), but I do not think that it will be too successful.

The issue will be whether the Retainer is refundable, despite the fact that there are no other explicit statements in the contract dealing with the nature of Retainer refunds.

In most states, the Court will look to the express terms of the contract, or the “Plain Meaning,” to determine the intent of the parties. Here, you would argue that the Court will NOT be able to arrive at the intent, because there is nothing there to define or explain the term “Retainer,” and consequently there is no explicit statement on whether the Retainer is refundable in the event of cancellation. In other words, the contract is ambiguous as to whether the Retainer is refundable. The Photographer will likely counter-argue that a “Retainer,” by definition, is a “fee to retain future services,” i.e., money paid in consideration of the Photographer NOT booking another wedding on your date, and as such, the Retainer is NOT refundable. I’ve seen this go either way (Iowa could do it’s own thing- I am NOT licensed in Iowa). Please note that the Court will look to the whole Contract, so it may be possible that other clauses will shed light onto the issue. For example, if there is a “Termination” or “Cancellation” clause dealing with the rights of the parties to go their separate ways.

If the Court finds that the refund policy is ambiguous, or even finds that the contingency has been completely omitted, then the Court will look to outside factors. Most states have different rules on what evidence can come in to prove intent, etc. This includes testimony on “Industry Standard” or “Trade Custom,” and to some extent, sometimes, your own testimony of what you discussed or expected. Since you have admitted that this was not discussed, you really only have an argument that in your own mind, you considered that the money would be refundable. Here, I think that the Photographer will have a great argument that not only is it industry standard to reserve his services by providing consideration in the form of Retainer, but that he can just as easily say he told you this prior. Again, I have seen this go either way (gotta love litigation).

I would highly advise sending a letter to the Photographer explaining your situation, and appeal to his sense of maintaining customer (or non-customer) satisfaction. Perhaps the Photographer would give you 50% of it back.

Good Luck!”

Moral of the Story: Your contract should be EXPLICIT when it comes to cancellation. There should be nothing ambiguous when it comes to what happens to the money in your hand should the bride cancel the day after signing of the day before the wedding.