Bev Pettit’s photo workshop is canceled during the pandemic. But the company won’t give her a refund. Is that their final answer?
Q: In early 2020, I signed up for a Raphael Macek Photo Workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona. I sent a $1,250 deposit for the May 2020 event and received a confirmation.
A month before the workshop, I began to receive emails from the company indicating that the workshop will be “rescheduled” due to COVID-19. But after one year of not hearing anything and now the company refusing to answer emails, texts and phone calls, I have resigned myself to the fact that they will not be refunding deposits. I tried to file a credit card dispute with my bank, but they said it had been too long for me to file a claim.
A year after the workshop was scheduled, I finally received a reply from Macek’s wife, saying that they needed to stop the workshops. I want my $1,250 back. I hope you can help me. —Bev Pettit, Prescott, Arizona.
A: Raphael Macek is an up-and-coming horse photographer who offers workshops around the world. I like his photography, but I don’t like what happened to you. I think he should have ponied up a refund or credit for the canceled photography workshop.
Instead, you received an email from his wife saying that “due to this special situation” you may receive either a credit of the amount paid for the next workshop or a gift voucher for the value of a Raphael Macek print.
We’ve seen this kind of thing before. A few weeks ago, you may recall the case of Donna Dandrea and her tickets to the Tampa Bay Blues Festival. The festival had been canceled during the pandemic, but organizers called it a “postponement” and decided to keep her money. This is not acceptable.
The moment you noticed the company dragging its feet on a refund, you should have notified your bank. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have 90 days to dispute your purchase. The law protects you for items ordered but not received. However, many banks give you more time to file a dispute, especially in “special situations” (to borrow a phrase from Macek). Simply put, they don’t have the right to keep your money, no matter what kind of contract you signed. If a company doesn’t deliver a product or service as promised, the contract is void.
Contacting the Raphael Macek Photo Workshop wasn’t the problem. It’s a small operation and you can be reasonably certain that your texts and emails were getting through. The trouble was getting the company to take your messages seriously. I think this is where a letter from a lawyer may have been helpful. That said, you don’t want to make threats. The best lawyers I’ve worked with understand that a lawsuit is the last option.
In this case, you could have also taken Macek to small claims court. The limit on small claims in Arizona is $3,500, and you can represent yourself in court. I don’t think Macek would have wanted to drive all the way up to Prescott to deal with your claim and he would have resolved this quickly.
As it turns out, that wasn’t necessary. I contacted Macek on your behalf, and he promptly refunded your deposit without offering a reason for the delay or responding directly to me. Maybe you’ll have a chance to take his workshop at some point in the future. Hopefully, there won’t be another pandemic.