When Is It OK To Destroy A Business? These Newlyweds Tried To Ruin Their Photographer Over A $150 Fee
The court found a couple liable for defamation, leading to the shuttering of a small business.
“Wedding photographer holds couple’s pictures hostage,” read the headline in Britain’s Daily Mail just days after the fall wedding of Andrew and Neely Moldovan. The wedding was held in Dallas, and sensational media coverage over the newlyweds’ dispute with their small photographer studio somehow ballooned into a global news story.
The Moldovans sought recourse via the press as they publicly claimed that their photographer, Andrea Polito, was holding their cherished snapshots ransom, demanding an additional $150 after the couple had already paid thousands for the service.
Sympathizers — virtually anyone who has felt taken advantage of by a consultant, contractor, or wedding service provider — flooded review sites with negative comments about Polito. Shortly after, her credibility shot and business slowed to a trickle, Polito’s studio was no more.
However, her defense against the Moldovans was just beginning. Polito filed suit against the vindictive husband and wife, claiming that her release of the photos was contingent on nothing more than their completion of some paperwork and payment of a $150 charge that they had known of for months.
Said Polito to the Washington Post: “She basically didn’t read her paperwork or contract. She just couldn’t understand why she couldn’t have her high-res images. It’s in bold in our contract.”
In court, Polito provided emails showing the lengths to which she went to appease the couple and remedy the situation. The picture she successfully painted was that of a vindictive client more focused on vengeance over a perceived slight than on fairness. In court, a text surfaced that wife Neely sent to a friend, reading, “We are hoping that our story makes the news and completely ruins her business.”
Last Friday, a Dallas jury sided with Polito, ordering that the Moldovans pay the devastated photographer $1.08 million in damages for undercutting her livelihood over false pretenses. The amount was predicated partially on the following:
Of course, the money goes a long way toward funding a new venture, but it doesn’t replace the emotional distress of fighting and failing to save one’s business. And this verdict by no means ensures that Polito will be able to recapture the significant lost business during this ugly public battle.
But it’s a start and offers some vindication, hopefully providing a sense of closure. The outcome also serves to remind other freelancers of the importance of documentation, especially in the age of social media and powerful business review aggregators.