Can wedding venue be liable for pain and suffering due to bad service?

Question (from Anonymous in CA): 

Breach of contract from hotel on wedding banquet. Non-performance. Is lawsuit possible for pain and suffering?: Paid hotel over 20,000 for wedding banquet in San Gabriel Valley for 190 guests. Horrific service. Took away food within minutes of service. Spilled food on table and used hands to pickup, without replenishing food for guests. Many other concerns to be provided. Also, contract clearly states they use the wine we provide after the open bar. Instead, not 1 single bottle was used. Instead, they kept open the bar and made it into a cash bar, charging all my guests for 3 hours. Due to the horrific service provided and ruining our wedding evening, can there be a lawsuit filed for pain and suffering?

Response (from Attorney Rob): 

I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience with the Venue. A reception should be a time to have a fun (i.e. doing the YMCA), and not looking over your shoulder to be sure a wedding vendor is doing their job.

Based on these facts, I think that you have a claim for Breach of Contract against the Venue. The issue will be the amount of damages (i.e. cash) to which you will be entitled. 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 Newlyweds rode into the sunset, you should be $20,000 lighter but have received a quality room, tasty food, and good service. Unfortunately, they have your $20K, but you didn’t get what you bargained for.

So, what are the actual breaches, and how do they get quantified to figure out your damages? Perhaps the most egregious are the failure of the Venue to provide the contracted amount of food and failure to provide wine service. A court will most likely look to the itemized costs on the contract.  For example, if the ‘wine service’ is listed at $2,000, your expectation damages would be $2000 (because you didn’t get it). Most times, it won’t be this easy, and you will have compute the value of the items/services that were not provided, and argue to the judge why this is an accurate measure of the damages.

In regards to the ‘pain and suffering,’ you will not be entitled to these damages. Generally, if the underlying lawsuit is for Breach of Contract, then you are limited to contract damages- in this case, expectation damages as explained above. Even though this Venue’ breach may have caused a lot of strife, heartache, and problems, the law quantifies the damages only in terms of the value of the contract.

In some circumstances, you may be entitled to ‘pain and suffering’ damages along with contract damages, but there must be a ‘tort’ (civil wrong) present as well. If you can prove that the Venue entered into the contract KNOWING that they were not going to deliver the wine service, then you may bring the tort claim of Fraudulent Misrepresentation. However, this is a difficult tort to prove, and based on the facts of this case, I don’t think you will be too successful. Short of an employee of the Venue punching you in the face, torts and contract damages don’t generally meet. I call it, “no crying in contracts.”

At the end of the day, you may best be served by hiring an attorney to draft a letter demanding partial refund (although the Venue may have materially failed in some aspects, you did receive some value). To sweeten the deal, you may agree to sign a release and non-disparagement agreement, but only do that for added value.

Based on the amount of damages here, I would say that a letter for refund is better than bringing suit. In our system, each party pays for their own fees, so you have to compute that in your cost-benefit for bringing a claim.

Good luck!!!!

Moral of the Story: Not sure what the lesson to be learned here is.