As wedding season approaches, couples across the nation are faced with the grim reality that their weddings have been involuntarily canceled due to the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Consequently, we are likely to see an onslaught of lawsuits against wedding venues and vendors in the year to come. Particularly, breach of contract claims by bride-to-be’s against wedding venues and vendors for refusal to refund advanced payments for a wedding that never occurs. Fortunately, there is some hope for couples who have written contracts in place: wedding contracts may contain force majeure provisions, you may be able to rescind your wedding contract if it is impossible to execute, and your wedding contract may be unenforceable contracts because they are against public policy.
We have previously written on force majeure provisions during Coronavirus. However, wedding contracts create special circumstances allowing would be newlyweds. The U.S. has declared a national emergency, and certain states, such as California, have issued executive orders implementing “shelter in place” of all residents, ordering closure of all nonessential businesses, and prohibiting gatherings of over ten people, arguably creating a public policy that weddings cannot go forward during the crisis.
Generally, a legal claim fails if it is based on an agreement that violates law and is contrary to public policy. See Kashani v. Tsann Kuen China Enter. Co., 118 Cal. App. 4th 531, 559, 13 Cal. Rptr. 3d 174 (2004)( “[t]he law has a long history of recognizing the general rule that certain contracts, though properly entered into in all other respects, will not be enforced, or at least will not be enforced fully, if found to be contrary to public policy.”) Given the public prohibition in California regarding gatherings of ten or more people, any persons attending, hosting, or working a wedding would be acting contrary to public policy that would threaten public health.
For example, if a bride-to-be hires a wedding photographer, and the photographer fails to perform photography services at the wedding (because the wedding is cancelled from Coronavirus), then the bride-to-be would arguably not obligated to pay the photographer. The challenge with wedding vendor contracts is the prevailing industry standard, whereby all services are typically prepaid in full. Given the unprecedented circumstances provided by the COVID-19 epidemic, however, the photographer should refund the full payment for the services they never performed.