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Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?

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Dylan HargreavesGrounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 7:53:34 pm

Hey CoW folk,

Had an interesting development today regarding a job that's left me in the position of being able to take legal action against the client. I wanted to canvas some opinion about what other people would do in my position.

Situation is this. A couple of weeks back, an inquiry for a job came in. Nothing ground shaking in terms of budget or subject - just a nice little corpy promo. Had a good chat with the owner and the next he confirmed he'd like to go ahead and use us for his video.

The shoot was supposed to be one day next week, depending on weather. We swapped back and forth a few emails confirming the nature of the job, angle we'd take and the budget. Then today I get an email from him saying he was cancelling the shoot.

Now he could've b-s'ed me and given any number of reasons that would've seen me walk away wishing him all the best. But bafflingly, he told me the truth: That he just found out one of his client's partners runs a video production company and they'd offered to do the video instead.

Although he and I didn't have a contract in place, under British law, you don't actually need one if there's evidence of an agreement between the parties as the nature of the work to be carried out, including budget etc. In this case, we have a whole trail of emails to that effect.

So I emailed him again saying that we have, in effect, a legally binding agreement in place, and that if he was pulling out of that offering no mitigating circumstance, I would be within my rights to seek compensation. I asked him to let me know how he wished to proceed.

He calls me up and we have a perfectly civil chat where he tried to retrospectively change the reason he'd given for cancellation. Besides, he said, how could the production go ahead now in any case?

I told him that as a professional. I would be happy to go ahead and still make him a great video at the agreed price if that was what he decided. That offer was declined.

So I told him he had two other options. 1) He could make me an offer for compensation, or 2) We call our lawyers and thrash it out in court. Bearing in mind how expensive that could get.

I think his pride kicked in at this point as he said his preferred option was to go to court. So I told him to have a think about it over the weekend and get back to me.

I feel like this guy has hoisted a massive middle finger at me, reneged on an agreement and thought nothing would come of it.

He's a relatively small business and this job was gonna do no more than pay a few bills, so I really don't want to the hassle, (or bad karma) of taking him to court. But I also don't think I'd be doing myself out of any future business or referrals from him either.

I didn't cold call him to get the job in the first place, I didn't put any pressure on him, he came to me, we had a chat, had a good rapport, (or so I thought) and he signed up. It's pretty out of order for him to just pull out in the way that he had. I certainly wouldn't do business like that.

Anyway, apologies for the long post, but what would you guys do? Bearing in mind, it's about as open and shut as legal cases get.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 8:47:41 pm

Dylan, I think this is a really bad idea. Your legal case sounds tenuous unless any amount of money changed hands, you have no paper trail, even if it was only emails. It's your word against his.

Secondly, it's not smart to want to force someone to hire you if they don't want to. The guy has a right to shop around and find a better deal. IMO, your better response to the cancellation would have been to stay friendly, wish him well, tell them you'd still be there for them as a plan-B if the other guy doesn't work out. You could even have given him a few things to ask the other guy about, that point up how ready and capable you are to do the job, like: "be sure to ask that guy if his fee includes the jib shots I can do, or the added-value free dubs fulfilment". Remind the guy driven by price that price alone doesn't always cover all items in the project.

Third, I think you're setting a bad precedent by behaving like this and you're damaging your business rep in your local production circles. Makes you out as a sore loser and tantrum-thrower, not a problem-solver and pleasant guy to deal with. I understand you don't like to be taken, and you don't want a rep as a pushover, however, in this case, nothing much was "taken" from you, a potential future customer acted boorishly with you, is all. Happens all the time. Could have been you were never really going to get that job, they were just benchmarking the competition to see what the costs were. Also, if you remain polite and helpful, even when you're not getting the job, folks tend to remember that and re-consider you in the future.

Sometimes we let that boorishness or obliviousness go, because we want to do the work, and sometimes we choose not to do business with those folks again, that's each man's personal choice. But for such a small "crime", this seems a disproportionate and illogical reaction. Surely, you didn't spend any money for this job before you actually HAD it, did you? You're out an hour or so of your time on the phone. That's part of the cost of doing business with the public.

The only time I would have been thinking about legal action with someone like this, is if they had reserved a shoot day, you had to turn down another paying gig scheduled for the same day, and he canceled after the deadline, without paying a pre-agreed cancellation fee. If you don't have cancellation policies explained and agreed to in advance, you can't be applying them retroactively after something goes Tango-Uniform. If there was no deposit, there is no guarantee to hold a day for the client. The guy that pays, gets the consideration.

My policy on rental or wedding video cancellations used to be, no charge to cancel, and all deposits refunded, up to 48 hours ahead, no charge if I didn't have to turn away other business for that set-aside time, no charge for weather stuff, if it was just re-scheduled, but there WAS a modest charge against the deposit for cancelling in less than 24 hours for non-weather-related issues. That was there mostly to stimulate a client to make up their mind on a cancellation a little earlier than the same day.

The key to all those charges was to have them known in advance, and signed off by the customer on real paper.


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Dylan HargreavesRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 9:13:17 pm

Hey Mark,

Thanks for the reply, (and Patrick too). I admit, threatening legal action does seem a bit disproportionate.

Just a few days ago, I had another, much bigger, job, via a PR agency cancel for no other reason than their client got cold feet on the idea and I'm not doing anything about that. Sure, it's disappointing but I know that these things happen.

What I'm pissed about in this instance is the quite disrespectful way this particular client has gone about it. He even told me on the phone that the other company initially quoted him higher than my quote, only to match mine when he told them what I was charging. So me threatening legal action is kind of an FU to them as well.

My main consideration is knock-on effects. Could I get a bad rep? Yes, it's a possibility. Would that be worth it? Probably not.

But I'm interested to get some ideas about what other people would do in my situation. So far, I've got 2 people telling they'd likely just leave it, so that's definitely something to think about.

Maybe just giving the guy a few sleepless nights will be revenge enough...


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Patrick OrtmanRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 8:54:27 pm

Every situation is different, but in the USA (where we are sue happy but the laws are different), when things like this happen to me, I tend to get angry about it for awhile, then let it go. He showed you what an asshole he is by doing this. Working for him, even though you're a professional, would be yet more exposure to his inner asshole nature. You don't need that.

Then again, if things got involved to the point where it seems they have, you may want to go to your small claims court (or similar), and get some money for your prep/consulting time.

----------------------------
PatrickOrtman, Inc.
Los Angeles Digital Agency and Video Production Company


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Michael LorusheRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 9:17:10 pm

I'd have to agree with Mark. It's annoying and happens to me from time to time but definitely NOT worth taking any further, Just get a 50% non-refundable deposit upfront next time and you'll greatly reduce the chances of this type of thing happening.

Michael Lorushe - Freelance Filmmaker
http://www.mikedoesmedia.com
http://www.hitchstudios.co.uk


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David JohnsonRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 9:53:57 pm

Just for reaffirmation sake, I'll chime in to say that I totally agree with what the others have said ... unless you had a cancellation agreement in place and lost another project as a result of the cancellation, let it go ... even if your laws would allow you to pursue it, barring any unmentioned details, doing so may accomplish no more than showing bad form on your part.

By the way, from your own initial description of the situation, you seem to be upset with the guy for telling you the truth instead of lying to you, which seems a little odd. That's not to say that cancelling on you at the last minute was right ... just that, by the way you described the situation, it sounds like you would have no issue with it if he had just told you a blatant lie instead.


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Dylan HargreavesRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:48:02 pm

[David Johnson] "By the way, from your own initial description of the situation, you seem to be upset with the guy for telling you the truth instead of lying to you, which seems a little odd. That's not to say that cancelling on you at the last minute was right ... just that, by the way you described the situation, it sounds like you would have no issue with it if he had just told you a blatant lie instead."

You're right, I would've preferred a lie! Just turning round a week before the shoot and saying, 'oh by the way, it's off. This other company are gonna do it instead' is the behaviour of a colossal ass. At least tell me you've got a cashflow crisis or something!

But the more I think about it, the more I'm actually angry with the other company. They clearly went to some effort jump on in there which in my book is pretty unethical. Maybe they're struggling a bit with the downturn and are desperate for the work. Sucks to be them, then.

Anyway, it looks like there's pretty much universal agreement that calling in the lawyers in this instance is probably not the best idea, so like I say, he can have a crappy weekend worrying about it and find out on Monday I'm walking away. Might just give him pause for thought about how to do business next time.


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David JohnsonRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 22, 2011 at 11:53:28 pm

To each his own, but personally, I despise being lied to in any context ... perhaps it's my own character flaw, but I take it as an insult to my intelligence since I always seem to know when I'm being lied to and find it very hard to ignore or ever deal with that person again in any way. In other words, I would take the "oh, by the way, this other guy is gonna do it" (at the last minute and at a cut rate) as proof positive that it's a job I didn't want in the first place so thank you very much for doing me the favor of not wasting my time. Then again, to each his own.


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Mike SmithRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 9:39:28 pm

Probably move on and do something more interesting.

But if you really wanted to, you could consider billing for the time and effort you put in and a cancellation fee in respect of the broken contract. It would probably come in below small claims court ceiling so no need for legal fees to pursue. You'd need to show an offer and an acceptance and a cancellation : it would help if there were any kind of cancellation fee clause in the offer. In any event you'd need any claim you might make to be reasonable.


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Tom SeftonRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 21, 2011 at 10:21:45 pm

Sorry to hear of your shenanigans this week Dylan. Hate to say it, but let it go. Karma is a bitch. Before you speak to him again you would be well within your rights to tell him exactly how much of your time he has wasted though (not that he would probably care though).

Mind you, I could be having a weak moment. Yup, I was. Destroy him!


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Martin PhillipsRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 22, 2011 at 8:58:50 am

Hi Dylan - yes, as others have said, I think that you have dodged a bullet on this one. If this is the way he goes on, no doubt the project will have had its fair share of headaches, not to mention invoicing woes.

Just walk away and be relieved it didn't go any further. You don't need the weeks / months of stress of taking it to court - let it go, and it won't seem so sore by next week.

Anyway, I'm sure that something else will come along next week and you will be glad you didn't take this job on!

Just my thoughts. Cheers, Martin.

Martin Phillips Freelance Cameraman / Producer / Editor
Chesham, Buckinghamshire, UK. http://www.videodvdmaker.co.uk


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Al BergsteinRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 22, 2011 at 10:50:40 am

I agree with all the posts recommending to let it go.if i were in your shoes, i wuold call him back, or write him, let him know you understand the situation, and wanted to let him have the option, if his friend's son didn't do the quality job he expected, to come back to you some day. He might not, but remember, people tell 10 people, when things go wrong, so they say. Your reputation is worth more than the job. And get a down payment next time, 1/3rd up front 2/3rds payable on delivery.

Alf


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Nick GriffinRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:11:14 pm

[Al Bergstein] " I agree with all the posts recommending to let it go."

My sentiments exactly. While it's tempting to succumb to negative energy in situations like this, it's rarely -- if ever -- productive in the long run. Move on to something positive, like going out and getting one of his competitors. KIDDING! Move on. There's other work out there.


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Alan LloydRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 22, 2011 at 1:39:46 pm

The question is not whether you can sue or not. The question is whether you'd win.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 22, 2011 at 9:40:22 pm

A follow-up, Dylan:

I had a situation like yours happen to me just late this week. We phone conferenced with five-six people 48 hours ago and set everything up for a two-hour live multicam software demo interactive webcast, with live phone-in Q&A, they were all gung-ho and set a date.... and so we started assembling the sets and lighting today in anticipation of a shoot early next week.

Late today (Friday), they seem to have put the kibosh on it all... or maybe just delayed it. They're toying with using VOIP/web-based sharing instead, but they're paying about the same to get less features and capability, is what they are going to find out early next week.

I'm not mad about it; the urgency of the upcoming event spurred action to get some tweaks done to our lighting grid, and some of our IT infrastructure, in anticipation of client needs. These things remain useful for every client to follow, whether these guys turn out to be "tire-kickers" or not.

Hey, I got a "squeezer" for my Leko out of it, which I'd been wanting to get for literally years, and we got the new set, set up and lit, now we can take pics of it next week to put in our "catalog" for all future clients to reference and see what we can do on short notice.


And, guess what happened a few hours after the maybe-cancellation. Another old client called out fo the blue, wanting to do something very similar to the project that just got side-tracked. We told them that we've got everything ready to go on an hour's notice, and they were impressed at how "responsive" we were:-)


Always look on the bright side of life...:-)


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Scott CarnegieRe: Grounds for legal action. What would you guys do?
by on Jul 25, 2011 at 3:26:53 pm

"1) He could make me an offer for compensation"

For what? What did you do besides send some e-mails? Drop it and move on.

http://www.MediaCircus.TV
Media Production Services
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


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