The Wedding Industry is a 70+ billion-dollar industry. In light of COVID-19, the hospitality industry is suffering and facing uncertainty. Venues, vendors, and hotels are struggling to carry on or cancel the events. Meanwhile, engaged couples are unsure if their families will be able to travel safely or if there might be a way to host their events safely despite the circumstances. Necessarily, couples are evaluating what options they may have for their big day. It is therefore important that both sides know and understand their respective rights and obligations.
Can you cancel your wedding during COVID-19?
To answer this question, the first place to look is the relevant underlying contract that was signed between the parties. When there is a contract in place, it typically guides the method of recourse.
Examples of contractual provisions that might provide clarification on the issue can include Force Majeure, Cancellation, and Performance clauses, as well as Attorney’s Fees provisions. The specific form of relief available to the parties thus depends primarily on the express language in the contract:
Force Majeure is a clause that may wholly or partially excuse performance under the contract that would otherwise be required. In interpreting a Force Majeure provision, courts will determine if the contract expressly identifies the particular event giving rise to a party’s non-performance as a Force Majeure event for purposes of the contract. The Courts will further determine whether the risk of nonperformance based on the alleged Force Majeure event was foreseeable at the time when the contract was executed. Importantly, the courts will distinguish between actual impossibility of performance as opposed to mere impracticability. Unless the contract expressly identifies the specific event at issue, impracticability will not excuse performance under a Force Majeure provision. Significantly higher costs, extended travel times or routes, or inconvenience generally do not give rise to Force Majeure.
Cancellation and Performance is a contract provision that is typically unilateral. This provision will leave it to the discretion of the venue or vendor to cancel the event when there is a changed circumstance, whether it be changes of law, economic status, availability, or similar changes the requesting party deems relevant. If a party has reserved its right to refuse performance under particular circumstances, including, for example, a global pandemic or a governmental shutdown order curfew order, courts will ordinarily uphold the provision and excuse performance as described in the contract.
Attorney’s Fees provisions typically state that the prevailing party in any dispute or legal action be awarded a reasonable amount of its attorney’s fees. It means that the non-prevailing party will have to pay the prevailing party its attorney’s fees incurred in connection with the dispute. Because it is never known beforehand who may prevail in any given action, an attorney’s fee provision may serve as a determent or an assurance. While it does not per se excuse performance, it ensures that the aggrieved party can recover some or all of its expenses.
Because it is in most cases uncertain whether a given event might be deemed to render performance actually impossible in the absence of clear and express contract terms, and in an effort of mitigating the costs, time, and attention legal disputes require, the first step should always be to attempt to coordinate an amicable resolution with the venue or service provider. An amicable resolution may be structured in a number of ways as long as the parties agree, including rescheduling, cancellation, adjustments or modifications, and/or reimbursements. Many venues and vendors are showing appreciation, kindness, and flexibility during these challenging times, understanding that COVID-19 has affected everyone in one way or another.