Samantha Lew’s wedding reception gets canceled in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. But now the company that manages the string quartet she hired wants to keep her $580. Can it do that?

Q: I hired a string quartet to perform at my wedding at the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley. But just before the ceremony, the university announced that as part of its efforts to take proactive measures to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus, campus spaces and venues would not be available for any event with 100 or more expected attendees.

We had to cancel the quartet. Under the contract, we should have been refunded a total $580. The management company that booked the string quartet refuses to issue a refund and has stopped responding to my calls. Can you help me get my refund? — Samantha Lew, Pleasant Hill, California

A: I’m sorry about your reception. UC Berkeley did the right thing by limiting access to its botanical gardens, but unfortunately, that affected your big day. I think everyone should have been a little more understanding and worked together to find a way to fix this.

I’m dealing with hundreds of similar cases now. They involve not just events but also product purchases and vacations. Businesses are counting on the revenue to survive; offering full refunds can wipe them out.

The ideal solution would be to offer the customer a credit, and if they accept it, to defer the service until after the outbreak. But that’s not practical for a wedding.

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Your contract with the management company was pretty one-sided. You had to pay for the event 30 days before the performance and you don’t get any refunds, even for extraordinary circumstances like a coronavirus outbreak. The company could offer a refund as a goodwill gesture but didn’t have to.

I can’t believe businesses write contracts like this — or that people sign them. You have almost no rights under your string quartet contract. In fact, I think the musicians could have shown up to your reception, helped themselves to the hors d’oeuvres and left — and still gotten paid under the contract. 

You can, and absolutely should, consider making some amendments to an agreement like that. If the quartet can’t perform, you should have at least been able to get a refund.

You kept a paper trail of the correspondence between the management company and yourself. It was cringeworthy. It quickly devolved from polite requests for a refund to accusations and name-calling, and finally to a scathing social media review. You also threatened to call a lawyer. 

These reactions, while understandable, don’t really help. They just escalate the situation until you’re ready to call a lawyer just on principle. You’ll spend more money paying an attorney than the claim is worth. 

The company shouldn’t have tried to keep your money. I mean, we’re talking about a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has upended everyone’s lives. Had it not done so — and if you had paid with a credit card — then you could have moved to what I call the nuclear option: a credit card dispute. After all, the company didn’t deliver the service you contracted for. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you can get all of your money back.

I contacted the company on your behalf. You received a full $580 refund.

If you need help with a coronavirus-related refund, please contact me. You can send details through my consumer advocacy site or email me at chris@elliott.org.