Should Wedding Photographers Sign Insulting General Release Waivers?

Should Wedding Photographers Sign Insulting General Release Waivers?

I’m sitting at my desk on a Friday and I get a phone call. It’s Saturday’s wedding venue, and they’d like for me to sign my life away. In what’s becoming an all too common practice, the venue has decided that for me to be allowed to photograph my client’s reception I should grant them a waiver of liability that allows for their potential future negligence to go unchallenged in court, even if it results in my death. Seems like a pretty fair deal for the guy showing up to take pictures, doesn’t it?

If you don’t agree with this arrangement, wedding photographers, then do us all a favor and tell these venues “no.” As a business owner, a husband, and a father, I have a hard time stomaching these sorts of agreements — even though I question whether they are actually legally binding.

I’m not a lawyer, and when I reached out to PPA to have an attorney address my concerns on this issue, they declined to comment on record. So why don’t we stick to the ethics of these hold-harmless agreements? My latest liability waiver would like for me to know that my participation in a wedding reception requires me devalue own drawing of oxygen:

“I, voluntarily and knowingly execute this Release with the expressed intention to hold the [Awesome Wedding Venue], harmless and release the [Awesome Wedding Venue], its officers, agents, representatives and employees from all liabilities, claims, actions, damages, property, equipment, merchandise, products, persons, losses, or expenses, including injury, illness, or death which may be suffered before, during or after participation.”

Seems fair, right? Unless the cook runs out of the kitchen drunk, trips, and a flaming veal kabob skewers me and reduces me to ashes. My wife might expect them to be held just a little responsible should that happen. She might. Just saying.

This wonderful hold-harmless agreement then goes on to reinforce my fear that a horror movie death is something they’d like to avoid being responsible for.

“Furthermore, the undersigned understands that this waiver includes any claims based on negligent action or inaction of the [Awesome Wedding Venue], its officers, agents, representatives, or employees. The undersigned has elected to assume all such risks.”

See! The drunken kabob flinging would surely fall under “negligent action,” right?

Now, I might be crazy (so tell me if I am, folks), but it seems silly to have me sign something like this when you’re not going to ask any of the 200 folks sucking down booze all night to do so as well? Who would you expect to be more likely get themselves into a “negligent’ situation: me, or Uncle Tom who’s had 10 whiskey and colas before dinner?

To add to the hilarity of the situation, most of these contracts seem to think that the year is 1832 and that I am the full legal custodian of my wife. It turns out — you’re going to love this — that some wedding venues think that my spouse need not participate to sign her rights away. If only I had the power to agree to line items such as this:

“It is my intention that this Release is binding upon my spouse, heirs, legal representatives, and assigns; and that its coverage extends to my spouse, heirs, legal representatives, and assigns.”

Sorry, honey, but “it is my intention” that you aren’t a legal adult. What!?

Thinking that I can even agree to something like this on the behalf of my wife or children is not only laughable, it’s just insulting. The whole thing is, really. I don’t mind agreeing to provide proof of liability insurance or signing something that acknowledges that I am responsible for my own actions and am a legally separate entity from the venue. That seems fair, and probably a safe designation for the venue to want to make.

However, the logic that any venue can open shop to thousands of guests and hundreds of vendors every year and do so expecting to take on no professional liability for their own action or negligence is just insane. It’s devaluing my life, my profession, and my family. I’m sick of it. You should be too.

Venues, how dare you!? How dare you ask me to acknowledge that I am personally responsible for my own actions, while in the same breath asking that you be released of any responsibility at all? If that’s not unprofessional, I don’t know what is.

Again, having asked around does lead me to believe that general waivers of liability don’t hold up too well in court. I wasn’t able to get any hard and fast rules to say why, but I did talk to a few folks that deal with these types of things on the legal end and most them referred to this sort of contract as garbage.

The sickening part is what choice do I have, anyway? In an effort to serve my client, and because I respect the choices they’ve made for their wedding day, I have to sign this so that I’m not causing a big stink for them.

Maybe I’m being a diva, but I still don’t want to sign this thing. It just seems off to me.

How often do you guys sign waivers like this, and have you ever confronted the venue about the policy?

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23 Comments

Tom Marvel's picture

I'm sure the drunken flaming kabob cook is an "independent contractor" and therefore not the legal responsibility of the venue

if you think the photography business over-saturated with legal mumbo jumbo contractual 3 card monti, try being in the construction industry

Dude: It's a world of lawyers and we just live in it

Adam Sparkes's picture

I can't even imagine, Tom. Considering that major jobs get done by temporary LLCs that dissolve the moment the property is sold or building is complete. Must be a nightmare?

IT's not because it's a waiver that it's a legal waiver.

Know your rights and responsibilities as an independent entrepreneur and you should be fine.

NAytime this kind of non sense has been thrown my way I try and educated them that it won't hold in court because what they ask of me (via their paper) is waiving them of their legal duties and only the law makers can change that.

Usually they don't believe me so I have them sign a smal paper that says "I told you so before hand"... Just in case.

TImothy Tichy's picture

Put a big X across the text, send it back unsigned with a copy of you liability insurance and see what they say. ;) Maybe you can be a bit cheeky and ask for a copy of their liability insurance as well .

Anonymous's picture

I'm not a wedding photographer, so my opinion may not be useful, but I have dealt with many private events over the last 25+ years. Personally I wouldn't sign it and put the burden on them to deal with the situation. I doubt they're going to call your client and say that you're not going to be allowed on the premises to do your job.

Do you carry liability insurance? I'm guessing you do. Does the venue? That's an interesting question because maybe they don't, but if they're going to play ball like that I would ask. I would also ask them to sign your waiver that prevents any lawsuits on you or your business for any damage that you may do to their venue. If they expect you to sign theirs then they shouldn't have a problem agreeing to the same terms.

Maybe my comments seem unreasonable, but there comes a point where you have to stop being walked on. I saw this all the time in the entertainment industry where acts would roll over for anyone. You are being a professional, and that's all you expect from them.

Adam Sparkes's picture

Steve, I actually debated just flipping their document around, adding my logo to the top and changing all mentions of the venue to my business name!!! I just feel like I don't want to cause a headache for my clients, but I'm seeing this more and more over the past few year, and I agree it needs to be challenged.

Anonymous's picture

Adam, the other thing that feels wrong about this is that they did this at the last minute. I'm guessing you've had this wedding booked for a while and your clients booked the venue a while back as well. It doesn't feel right. It would be another thing if your client booked the venue and they told your clients that any vendors they hire (florist, bakery, DJ or music act) need to sign a waiver.

Jacques Cornell's picture

"I just feel like I don't want to cause a headache for my clients"
This is exactly what the venue is counting on, and why they wait until the last second to spring this on you. It is, in fact, the venue that is threatening to cause a headache for your clients.

Whether agreements like these are enforceable depends entirely on state law. In many (probably most) states the right to recover for injuries caused by negligence--but not recklessness or intentional conduct--can be waived if the agreement is otherwise valid. But courts will sometimes look for ways to construe the waiver narrowly or find that it was not sufficiently clear and unequivocal to be given effect.

In any case, the cost of hiring an attorney who is not terrible (remember that your insurance will not pay for your attorney, while any legitimate venue will have general liability coverage) will be so high that a lawsuit rarely makes sense, even if your chance of getting the waiver thrown out is high.

All that said, I agree it's a dick move (that's a technical term) for a venue to ask a photographer to sign a waiver like that in such circumstances.

Honestly, this is the kind of shit that makes me happy that I am done with shooting weddings. I will not miss the legal abuse that wedding photographers have to deal with.

A few years ago when the company I worked for was sold, the new owners presented to me a ridiculous non-compete agreement. The agreement prevented me from working any job related in even the smallest way to my industry anywhere on this side of the planet. My wife is a lawyer and when she read it, she just laughed and said "sign it!". It was her opinion that the non-compete was such an overstep that we would be able to counter sue if they even tried to enforce the thing. Some people think any piece of paper you sign is legally binding but this is far from true. If it was true, you would still be able to sign yourself into slavery. In most cases, you can't sign your rights away.

Adam Sparkes's picture

Bill, I could write an second entire rant on non-competes from my years on the corporate art world. Absolutely abusively used, and typically they are a legal overstep, but the methodology seems to be that the company can afford to contest where as an employee may not?!

N a t's picture

Did I miss what they are threatening you with if you don't sign? They should have been upfront when the couple signed you. Haven't heard of this happening in the UK

I am pretty sure I know exactly which venue this is and I would not sign it, we did not sign it for the last event done there either. In fact, I have stopped servicing events at this venue because of such shenanigans. I recently had this same discussion with another vendor about their "waiver". They always want to pull this last minute stuff, agreements and changes and it is just terrible customer service. Every vendor I have talked to dislikes the way they are treated at this venue, and have had clients treated poorly by them as well. Don't sign it.

Please post a shot of the waiver somewhere on the net, at some random time from now, with your personal info redacted but the venue letterhead visible. They should be outed for such practices.

The way I've gotten around various restrictions (though I've yet to encounter something as egregious as this; mostly it's just overzealous church ladies) is to identify myself as the bride's Uncle Bob, with the bride in on it of course.

Michael Kormos's picture

Yo!
First off, you shouldn't be signing anything that puts your wife and children on the line. Incorporate, or form an LLC.. Separate your business liabilities from personal.

Second, silly (and unenforceable) waivers like this are common. You're not required to sign them, or even acknowledge receiving them in the first place.

Third, forget about a derelict enterprise like PPA who is trying to reinvent itself in modern times. Find a small business lawyer, and be ready to write a few checks worth thousands... Or close up shop. It's part of running a legitimate business.

Lastly, waivers like this are common. No need to get your panties in a bunch. :-). Be smart and act accordingly.

DR Chevalier's picture

Hi Adam. The question as to whether the document would stand up in court is not really relevant as you would be the one writing the cheques to show that it isn't if you signed it. I no longer shoot weddings, but as other commenters have noted, that in today's litigious world this type of crap breeds readily. As a professional, you carry insurance. Perhaps the venue in question does as well. One technique that I have adopted for my commercial work is that the agreement between myself and the buyer of my services, stipulates that the buyer deals with all of this kind of nonsense and that any direct requirements will incur a surcharge or a cancellation on my part without return of deposit in the event that the buyer cannot come to an agreement with their subcontractor. Your world may be different, but I cannot afford a pantheon of lawyers. I personally don't sign these waivers, and that decision has cost me business. However, there is always the probability that I am better off in the end.

Ian Ludwig's picture

Not article related but damn the sensor/lens in that ring shot could use a decent cleaning...

We don't have it over here in Toronto. Not sure how it works in the states, but in Toronto the venues don't do this lol. www.focusphotography.ca

Dave Hachey's picture

You always have the option to decline the agreement. I've refused a few of these in the context of my consulting business. Does the venue ask guests to sign a 'hold harmless' agreement to attend the wedding? I doubt it. I also suspect (I'm not a lawyer) you can't sign away your wife's rights to sue, only she can do that. If enough people refuse to sign these types of contracts, then the venues will get the message as their wedding business drops off.

Joey Yane's picture

As a photographer, you have to be aware of what you can and can’t do and always act with clear and fair judgment. www.ngstudio.ca

I'm a Toronto wedding photographer, I do not think it's reasonable to ask a photographer to sign a waiver like that in such circumstances. http://fantasticwork.ca