The summer of COVID is turning dream weddings into nightmares. Many couples find themselves not only without their special day, but in many cases, also out thousands of dollars, when venues refuse to give them refunds.
Justin Brown and Nathan Donsen have been engaged for almost 4-years. They had a perfectly-planned, surprise, sunset proposal on the beach in Punta Cana, and now, they want their wedding to be just as special.
“It’s just been a lot to finally get to the point to have the wedding of our dreams and the wedding we have planned forever for,” Brown said.
The couple chose beautiful Armstrong Farms—with its rustic barn-turned-banquet-hall, as the venue; but their country wedding ran right into the COVID crisis. By early March their July 4th date in doubt.
“We were kind of alarmed, concerned about what was going to happen to our wedding,” Brown remembered.
They contracted for a 3-day weekend excursion for 125 people at a cost of $8500. Between a $1500 deposit and additional payments of $4000 over the months leading up to the big day, the venue already had $5500 of their money. But it became increasingly clear that with COVID restrictions, their dream wedding this summer was no longer possible.
“On our wedding day, I don’t want to be responsible for everyone wearing masks or if they have a temperature or whatever it may be,” Donsen explained. “That’s the last thing on my mind that I want to worry about.”
They tried to work out an alternative, but they say Armstrong Farms didn’t offer acceptable options. So, they asked for a refund, but the venue refused—leaving them exasperated.
“I do not want to cancel my wedding and not get a refund; and I also do not want to have a wedding on July 4th for only 25 people for $5500. That’s crazy!” Brown said. “Who pays $5500 to have a wedding for 25 people? I can do that in my backyard.”
We went to Armstrong Farms to find out what they have to say about the situation, but owner Andy Allen did not want to do an interview. Instead, he emailed 11 Investigates a written statement (see entire statement at end of article)—which said in part: “No one is viewing this heart-breaking situation as an opportunity to cheat people.”
Allen said his goals are:
- to keep his staff employed
- business afloat
- and couples as happy and stress-free as possible—by providing fair alternatives.
But those words ring hollow for Brown and Donsen.
“I think it’s very unfair. I feel like they’re just strong arming us. Why do they have all the power?”
Consumers do have rights, too. We had Consumer Lawyer Craig Kimmel review the contract Brown and Donsen signed with Armstrong, and he says the couple might be in a better position than they realize.
“The material term of the agreement is to do the wedding on a certain day and since the venue cannot provide that in a safe environment. Consumers—if they can’t work out their differences—are entitled to their money back,” Kimmel explained.
Every contract lays out terms for both sides, and even though this one says “all payments are non-refundable, Kimmel says that’s based on the venue fullfilling those terms. The pandemic makes that impossible, so he says-- the venue is in breach of contract.
“The way I read this contract is the consumers have not received what they paid for, because of circumstances beyond their control, and beyond the venue’s control. Therefore, the only fair and equitable thing to do is refund the purchase price paid,” he said. “The venue is on the hook for all the money they’ve agreed to take for a service they can’t provide.”
Brown and Donsen have put their wedding on hold for now and plan to sue Armstrong to get their money back.
“I no longer want a wedding there. They ruined everything,” Brown said.
Taking legal action
One thing to be aware of is if your contract has an ‘Act of God’ clause, which covers natural hazards-- possibly like a pandemic. That could give the venue more protection to keep your money, but a court would decide that if you decide to sue.
In most cases, it’s best to try and work something out if you can. If you can’t agree on a resolution with the venue and they refuse to give you a refund, you will likely have to take legal action.
You can file suit in small claims court or contact a consumer lawyer for help.
Some attorneys will take these cases on contingency, so you don’t have to pay a fee up front, only if you win or have a successful settlement.
Kimmel’s firm has a special website set up to help consumers fighting for COVID related refunds.
Armstrong Farms Statement to 11 Investigates:
Apologies about not being able to talk earlier. Thanks for stopping by the farm to get a comment for your story. The last few months have been so difficult for everyone and our couples have handled the situation with courage, grace and resiliency. But in a situation where no one is at fault and no one wins, there have definitely been some tough conversations. We’re doing our best to find solutions for all of our couples. We have offered Sunday and full weekend dates later this year and next year. We’ve been able to reschedule the majority of our couples who have been impacted by COVID-19 and we’re really happy about that. That said, it’s been easier to find solutions for some couples versus others. We’re keeping the lines of communication open with everyone and have even encouraged our couples to come to the table to brainstorm different ways we can move forward. There are definitely two sides to every story and I could go into detail about the couple you mentioned. However, I don’t think that would be productive or helpful to anyone. This has been a stressful situation for everyone and the last thing we want to do is add to that. But I’d like to leave you with this— the Southwestern PA wedding community isn’t just a community -- it’s a family. Vendors, venues, planners -- we all work together with one common goal: to give people the weddings of their dreams. As this pandemic became a reality, not one of us woke up with the intention of using it to take advantage of anyone. No one is viewing this heartbreaking situation as an opportunity to cheat people. We, along with many of our vendor friends and other small businesses, have been losing much-needed income every single day since March 10th. And that trend will continue for the foreseeable future. As we navigate this ever-changing situation, we have focused on three goals: 1) keep our couples as happy and stress-free as possible by providing fair alternatives if they are unable to host their special day; 2) keep our staff team -- who is more like family to us -- employed; and 3) keep our business afloat. Those are our concerns. That’s it. Period. End of story. We’ve been here for 7 generations and have been hosting weddings for 20 years. I’m proud of our work and our team and our hearts go out to everyone during this difficult time. Thanks,
Andy Allen Armstrong Farms Bed and Breakfast, Inc.
Cox Media Group