Wedding Suppliers & Covid-19: legal advice

by | Apr 3, 2020

The Coronavirus crisis has had an affect on everyone.

Like most businesses, the wedding industry is struggling right now, with couples having to postpone or cancel their special occasion amid coronavirus spread concerns.

If you browse online news headlines, there’s plenty of advice flying around for couples who were getting married in 2020 on what to do about cancelling their wedding during the Covid-19 crisis.

But what about the wedding industry, and wedding suppliers? With some couples struggling to get anywhere with their wedding insurance providers, where do we stand?

In March, I hosted a Facebook Live on my Evolve Videography Training page with Samuel O’Toole, a Solicitor at legal firm BRIFFA which specialises in all aspects of intellectual property and IT law.

Lots of questions flooded in from concerned wedding suppliers, including photographers and videographers, who are facing a collapse of their businesses with weddings officially cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Samuel answered all the questions during our live chat, which you can watch below. But we’ve also collated all the questions and answers further down.

Q Now that the government has enforced a lockdown across the country, how does this impact on our Force Majeure clauses, especially if we are prepared to postpone our services?

A A Force Majeure clause excuses one or both parties from performance of the contract in some way following the occurrence of an unexpected event outside their control. Clearly, if one of the events listed is a pandemic Covid-19 is covered. However, Force Majeure clauses vary from contract to contract so it is very important to check your contract as to: 1) whether a Force Majeure clause exists and 2) the precise wording of the clause.

Q A lot of brides have rescheduled for later in the year now with many videographers and photographers. But much of their work is actually after the wedding date. The postponement will impact on editing schedules and delivery commitments in original contracts – what’s your advice on how to deal with this if the supplier needs to extend these timings?

A These contracts are often a long-term relationship between you and your wedding party and no doubt you will have built up a lot of trust over time. As a result, the safest option if Covid-19 is causing performance issues may be to consider renegotiating parts of the contract with the wedding party. Amendments to the contract that result from the renegotiation should be evidenced in writing and a lawyer should be involved to make these negotiations legally valid and enforceable.

Q Should we have a new contract drawn up if a client postpones or use the existing one with an addendum?

As above, it is good practice to record any amendments to a contract in writing. Whether or not to use the existing contract or an addendum will all depend on the variation provisions of the initial contract.

Q If a couple cancels when their balance is due but not yet paid, can I force them? If they’d paid should I refund?

A This will all depend on what your contract says and, of course, whether the terms are fair or not.

Q Should we charge a re-scheduling fee (if it’s not in our contracts should we add it?)

A It would not be possible to retrospectively amend a contract to include a rescheduling fee, unless the other party agrees – which is doubtful. Overall any additional charges will have to be in line with what your contract provides for.

Q What if our prices have gone up since the client booked. Should we pass that on if a client is postponing / rescheduling?

A Again, this will all depend on what your contract says.

Q When does Force Majeure come into play?

A Looking above, it all depends on the precise wording of the clause.

Q What is ‘time of the essence’ and why is it important in a contract of this nature?

A If time is of the essence in a contract it means that the date specified is very important and if the services cannot be provided on that date then the contract may be breached. On the other hand, if time is not of the essence then the contract views the performance of the service on that specified date as non-essential. A good way to deal with things in these types of contracts would be to have your payment date being ‘of the essence’ but performance of the services ‘not of the essence’,  however some wedding parties are very much likely to want the performance of the services to be ‘of the essence’.

Q If a couple wants to reschedule but we’re already booked do we have to offer a refund or can we send someone in our place on the day?

A This will depend on the wording of your contract.

Q Now the government has banned all weddings, what does this impact on our contracts as we no longer can film the weddings?

A This may trigger a force majeure clause or it may cause the contract to become frustrated. Frustration is a common law principle that enables a contract to be automatically terminated when an event occurs which renders the contract physically or commercially impossible to fulfil. However, it all depends on the specific circumstances/ what the contract says.

Q Should we seek legal advice?

A There is lots of risk associated when looking to change or enforce contract provisions. If not properly acted on it is possible to increase your liability and end up worse off. I strongly recommend that you take legal advice if you are looking at your options.

Contact Samuel O’Toole, Solicitor at BRIFFA, via email – samuelo@briffa.com.

You can also read my recent coronavirus wedding advice blog over on
my Story Of Your Day website with tips for couples postponing their wedding.