Can I get my deposit back from wedding venue if there’s no written contract?

Question (from anonymous in DE)

I put $3000 down on a venue for a wedding in October 2013. No contract was signed. Can I get money back?: I put $3000 down to hold venue. Lady told me she would send contract after she received money. She didn’t send one and subsequently went on vacation for two months. I sent money in October and it’s Dec 1 and wedding is off. Legally, can I get full deposit back?

Response (from Attorney Rob):

You more than likely have a valid and enforceable agreement with the Wedding Venue even though there is no signed contract. At the time you sent the $3000 down payment (I presume you were aware of the total cost of the contract) to the Wedding Venue, the Wedding Venue agreed (I presume) to reserve your requested date and forego other opportunities. You agreed to pay the remainder according to the terms of your conversation with the Wedding Venue, to be formalized in written form with the mailing of the written contract, and to eventually hold a wedding there.

Although there is an argument that without agreement over the various terms contained in the contract, there is no ‘mutual assent’ and therefore there is no contract, this may not work for you here. It appears that the material terms (price, date of the wedding, and scope of rental) were ironed out (otherwise you would not have sent the money). In essence, both parties were aware of the major obligations between them moving forward. Flipping the problem, if the wedding wasn’t cancelled, the Wedding Venue would most certainly be on the hook to you if they notified you as of December that the date was no longer available.

So, by cancelling your wedding, you have effectively ‘breached’ the agreement that you have with the Wedding Venue. The issue here will be the amount of damages (money) that the Wedding Venue is entitled to because of the breach. This amount will be dependent on a few factors. In contract actions, the Court will attempt to place the parties in a position that they would have been had the services been fully performed (“Expectation Damages”). Here, after the wedding, you have paid X amount, but have received quality room (and possibly food/service). The Wedding Venue should have the contract amount, less the cost to deliver the services (food and personnel costs, etc).

Further, in the event of a breach, the non-breaching party is obligated to reduce their damages. Here, the Wedding Venue must take reasonable steps to secure another event on that date. Any monies made from this new event would be subtracted from the damages that they could lawfully seek from you. So, the Wedding Venue MUST attempt to book another similar event, even if it is at a loss. Note that the Wedding Venue is not obligated to re-book, only take the necessary steps to do so.

Depending on what the contract value is, the $3000 deposit may go beyond the expectation damages, and therefore you would be entitled to that portion regardless if the Wedding Venue won a judgment against you. Further, and again depending on the contract value, the $3000 deposit may be an unenforceable ‘liquidated damages’ provision. These laws vary from state to state.

With all this being said, I would highly advise hiring an attorney to review your specific facts. It is possible that a well written attorney letter, aka, ‘nastygram’ may get you the deposit back. Many attorneys offer these on a flat fee basis, and at a price that will make it worth the investment.

Good Luck!!!

Moral of the Story: As I said last week, this is a good example of why written contracts are so important.