The number of lawsuits between planners and
seems to be increasing, according to two top
meetings industry lawyers.
Jonathan T. Howe, of Chicago’s Howe & Hutton, and John
Foster, of Atlanta’s Foster, Jensen & Gulley, base their
findings on the increases they’re seeing in their own workloads.
Howe blames ambiguous language in contracts, where the parties’
responsibilities are not laid out clearly enough, while Foster
believes “hotels are now thinking short-term. In other words, they
want their money now.”
Foster added that the potential to gain a planner’s repeat
business by not suing doesn’t mean much anymore. “The thinking is
that the future will take care of itself,” he said.
Back in the 1990s, one option for handling cases between
planners and suppliers was a dispute resolution committee run under
the auspices of the McLean, Va.-based Convention Industry Council
and featuring a panel of industry experts trained in legal
arbitration. But the service went unused, and the 16-person
committee was disbanded in 1998.
Both Howe and Foster say arbitration still is a good route to
take, however, especially if the amount of money in question is
small, say less than $100,000.
Industry professionals who query the CIC looking for
information on arbitration Mary Power, president and CEO of the
council, said she gets about 12 such requests each year are
directed to the American Bar Association (www.abanet.org
Interested parties also can contact the American Arbitration
Howe said he generally does not like to put an arbitration
clause in his meetings contracts, “but when we get into a dispute,
I am willing to talk about going to arbitration for expediency and
Foster does include what he labels a dispute resolution clause,
a paragraph that calls for mandatory arbitration for cases
involving $75,000 or less. “If disputes are more than this amount,
arbitration is optional, but both parties have to agree to it,” he
said. His clause also allows for traditional legal discovery to
take place, including the giving of depositions.
Finally, Foster said, “I include wording to the effect that
issues of law, but not issues of fact, can be appealed. Normally,
arbitration awards are not subject to appeal.”