Can I Sue My Wedding Photographer?
Yes, you may be able to sue your wedding photographer or videographer if they fail to provide the services they promised or, in some cases, misuse your pictures. Most professional photographers will have you sign a contract. The language of your contract will determine what claims may be available, such as breach of contract, misrepresentation, and misappropriation.
Where you sue depends on the value of your claim. If it falls below a state-established threshold, you may have to bring your claim in small claims court. You could handle this on your own, but you may at least want to have a contracts lawyer review the contract. A demand letter from your lawyer may be enough to get the photographer to pay up and, if so, save you the possibility of losing down the road.
Of all the things that go into making a memorable wedding, nothing is as important as wedding photos and videos. Long after the flowers have wilted and the cake is gone, the photos and videos will endure.
Your choice of wedding photographer is critical. There's a lot you can do to make sure you get a top-notch professional. Carefully research them online. Review examples of their work. Check their credentials. Contact their references. Ask a lot of questions about the services they will provide. Carefully review the contract they send you to make sure you are getting what you want. Ask a lot of questions to ensure everyone has the same idea of what the fee will be, how long they will take pictures for, who owns the digital rights to the photos taken, and how you can print them and share them online. These simple steps can help ensure that you have a positive experience.
Choose Your Wedding Photographer Carefully
Not every experience is positive. Suppose your fiancée assigns you the responsibility of selecting your wedding photographer. You aren't really sure what to do, but you figure you can find a good one on social media or the internet. You visit a few websites and scroll through some of the photos you see. You find some photos that impress you and schedule an appointment to meet with the photographer in person.
Beware Red Flags
The big question on your mind is whether they are available on your wedding day. Your relief is overwhelming when they assure you they are. You talk generally about what you want and ask about their qualifications. You specifically remember them telling you that they have done dozens of weddings before, which you find reassuring. They email you a contract that you sign and then send them a $1,500 deposit with another $1,500 to be paid when you get the pictures.
Your special day arrives. All of your fiancée's preparations for the wedding venue go great, but as far as the photographer goes, it's a fiasco. They show up late. They miss part of the reception, claiming that they accidentally went to the wrong place. And when you finally do receive your photos — months late — they look like the ringbearer took them. Your spouse cries when she sees them.
The Unfortunate Aftermath
You promise that you will do your best to fix it, but you're really not sure how. You certainly have no intention of paying for the photos. You call the photographer and demand your deposit back, but they refuse. In fact, they demand that you pay the rest of the contract price for the photos they took. You hang up the phone, fuming. And you are outraged when you later learn that you were the very first wedding they had ever photographed. To add insult to injury, they end up using the only good photo in an advertisement.
Never fear. You may have a basis for a lawsuit against the photographer.
Breach of Contract
Your first possible claim would be for breach of contract. A contract is a bargained-for exchange of promises that a court will enforce. Generally, you can have oral contracts or written contracts (although in some instances, a contract must be in writing). To establish a legally enforceable contract, you would need to show three elements:
Elements of a Contract
The first element is an offer. An offer is a promise to do or not do something in exchange for something in return. To be a valid offer, a promise must be stated and delivered in a way that a reasonable person would believe that its acceptance would result in a binding contract.
The second element is acceptance. Acceptance is assent to the terms of the offer. It can be expressly stated (such as when you sign a written contract) or it can be inferred from the offeree's conduct.
The third element is consideration. Consideration is the bargained-for exchange of value. Don't worry, that's simpler than it sounds. It just means that both parties got something of value - it wasn't a gift or a negotiation. Unlike offers and acceptances, consideration is not judged objectively. The deal doesn't have to seem reasonable. As long as there is something bargained for there will be enough consideration to support a binding contract. Your contracts lawyer will say that even bargaining for a peppercorn is enough.
Breach of Contract
A party's failure to perform the terms of a contract is called a “breach." Depending on the contract's terms, a breach can occur when a party fails to perform their obligations on time or provide goods or services that meet the quality standards set forth in the contract.
In your case, you can show that the wedding photographer breached the contract. They failed to perform their obligations by showing up at the last minute — at least they weren't a no-show — and weren't at the reception for the amount of time they were supposed to be. They failed in both places to take photos that they were supposed to take.
You would have a harder time showing that the terrible pictures themselves breached the contract. Quality standards are generally subjective. What's a bad wedding picture to one person might not be bad to another. But if the photos are so bad that virtually no one could think that they are good — for example, the lighting is so bad that you can't see anyone's faces — you may be able to persuade a judge that the poor quality constituted a breach of the agreement.
Remedies for Breach of Contract
Assuming you can prove your breach of contract claim, a court can award you damages. Contract damages can be measured in several ways, but in the wedding photographer case there are two that apply more than others.
The first is compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are monies intended to put you in the same position you would be if the party had performed their obligations under the contract. You need to establish compensatory damages with reasonable certainty by providing sufficient evidence to allow the court to make a probable estimate of the damages sustained.
That's hard to do in your case. You may have specified the number of photos that the wedding photographer was supposed to take but estimating what the value of a good picture would be is more challenging.
The second measure that might apply, however, is restitution. Restitution is money intended to compensate you for any benefit you gave the breaching party. You gave the wedding photographer a benefit by performing your promise to give them a $1,500 deposit upfront. A court could order restitution and have the photographer return the deposit to you.
Beware the Fine Print
A word of warning, however. You need to make sure you read the contract carefully before you sign it, and you should read it again carefully before you make any decisions about filing a lawsuit. The contract could — and probably does — include language limiting the photographer's liability, disclaiming responsibility, and specifying what is supposed to happen in the event they fail to perform the contract.
For example, many photographers' contracts limit recoverable damages to the amount of the deposit. They also may say include hedge language like, “we will try to be there at two" instead of “we will be there at two." So make sure you go through the language and understand what you are getting into before you sign the contract.
Another claim you would want to make is misrepresentation. Misrepresentation is the making of false or misleading statements intended to induce someone to enter into a contract. To establish misrepresentation, you need to show the following six elements:
- The photographer made a representation
- The representation was false
- They knew the representation was false or made the representation recklessly
- The photographer intended you to rely on the representation
- You did rely on the representation
- You suffered damages as a result of relying on the representation
Depending on the nature of the case, you may be able to get the contract rescinded as well as recover damages. Rescission is a contract remedy for breach that puts you in the position you would have been in had the contract never been made. It relieves you of any further obligations under the contract.
Your misrepresentation claim would be based on the photographer telling you that they had photographed dozens of weddings before. You relied on that representation when you decided to go with them. Although intent can be hard to prove, a court could infer it from the context. You would be able to get the contract rescinded — that's important because you don't want to have to pay the rest of the contract — and get your deposit back.
A third claim to at least consider is misappropriation. Misappropriation here would be based on their using the one good photo in their ad. Depending on where you live, you may be able to show that your image has value (particularly if you are a celebrity). If you can, you may be able to persuade a court that their use of the photo without your permission — assuming you didn't give them permission in the contract — constitutes misappropriation.
Where Should You Sue?
The remaining question is where you would sue. Unless it's a particularly extravagant wedding, like a destination wedding, you are probably going to have to bring your legal action in small claims court. Small claims courts have the power to decide disputes up to a certain amount established by state law. This amount varies, depending on where you are, but can be as low as $2,500 and as high as $25,000. Small claims cases tend to be relatively informal (in some states, you can't have a lawyer in small claims court, so you would have to represent yourself).
The process is relatively straightforward. You fill out your paperwork, file it with the court, and then serve it on the other party. Then, you get notified of your hearing date. At the hearing, you present your evidence and testimony of any witnesses who can support your claims. Finally, the court decides the dispute, typically a few weeks later, and you get notified of the result. If you're unhappy with it, you can generally appeal.
If You Plan on Suing Your Wedding Photographer, a Lawyer Can Help
The last thing you want is for your wedding photographer to ruin your important day. You expect timely service, great photos, and wonderful memories. If you believe your wedding photographer failed to do what they promised to do, you may be able to bring a lawsuit.
Before you file your paperwork, however, consider having a knowledgeable contracts lawyer review your wedding photo contract. They can give you legal advice and may be able to come up with examples of breaches and other legal issues that you hadn't thought of. And a demand letter from a reputable lawyer is bound to make the photographer think twice about keeping your deposit.
If you do decide to sue the photography business, good luck!