Freelancers' Questions: How to resolve wedding photo work dispute?

Freelancer’s Question: I’m a wedding photographer and need some legal guidance following some hot water I find myself in. Last July, I shot a wedding and it took the bride and groom – who I knew well and trusted – almost 10 months to pay me.

I gave them the opportunity to view the images and select which ones they wanted in their album, but each time suggested when they come and see me that they pay. It was only when I said I was no longer willing to meet, that I just wanted payment and I would send them the photographs that they paid up.

I then produced a 'discount' photobook wedding album, which is one they had picked themselves. They immediately came back, saying that the album had fallen apart; that they didn't like the photos and wanted a full refund.

I refused and tried to resolve any issues they had, asking them to return the album, so I could get a replacement from the supplier. The next I knew I had a bailiff at my door, as the first court hearing letter had gone missing in the post and I missed the hearing.

That's all resolved, in that I recently attended a meeting at the court and was told that I have a good case to defend myself and the client has got to re-submit her claim and allow me to answer. I've had it suggested to me that I get an independent photographer, preferable someone with a professional membership/qualification to view the images and report on them.

But where would I find such a photography expert; surely they’d be bias against the couple if it’s me who pays them – and how much is likely? And anyway, is such a course of action recommended?

Expert’s Answer: We have not been provided all the relevant information so I must make some assumptions.

I note that the customer has issued court proceedings, and I assume as a bailiff came knocking that judgement was entered when you, the photographer, did not attend the hearing. I also take it that the judgement was subsequently set aside on your application. However, the judge would not have said that you had a “good case”, merely that he had an arguable case and was entitled to be heard if he did not receive notice of the hearing. And perhaps the judge ordered the claimant to provide more information.

One key piece of information missing in your question is the price. What was the cost of the wedding shoot? And how was it broken down between photography, cost of the album itself, and cost of the prints? The price will always have a big influence on the quality which is to be expected. Obviously there will be a world of difference between a £10,000 package and a £400 package.

In addition, I presume that the claim is being dealt with on the small claims track, and consequently is of a relatively low value. In that case, serious consideration must be given as to whether it is worth employing an expert wedding photographer to cast an opinion.

Normally on the small claims track, the expert does not attend court, and merely provides a written report, which must be in the correct format and addressed to the court. In essence the experts owes no loyalty to whoever is commissioning the report. The expert’s duty is to give an honest expert and professional opinion to the court, in the form of a written report.

In your situation, I would recommend choosing an expert who is not known to either party, and has ample experience of wedding photography. How much they will charge I cannot say. It will be necessary to shop around, but in case of difficulty the Law Society does have a list of independent experts, which may be of assistance.

As mentioned previously, the key question will be whether it is worth the cost. If the claim is on the small claims track it is not usual for costs to be awarded, except the cost of issue and attendance expenses. It is possible that the expert’s fee will equal or be a significant proportion of the sum in dispute. In that scenario, it’d be better for you to contact the customer and try to resolve the claim out of court. That may involve replacement of the album and perhaps a refund of part of the fee.

Finally, I presume that it is accepted that the album itself was not of satisfactory quality, hence the replacement offer. It will make no difference that the clients chose the album, or that it was “budget”, if indeed it fell apart quickly and easily. It will then boil down to the quality of the photographs themselves. If they are judged to be satisfactory bearing in mind the price and a reasonable standard to be expected of a professional photographer, then the claimants will lose, subject to the replacement of the unsatisfactory album.

I hope that this guidance helps you make a decision as to how you wish to proceed.

The expert was Nigel Musgrove, litigation solicitor at legal advisory Cousins Business Law.

 

15th August 2013

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