Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES
Lessons from two recent meetings-related lawsuits... A
patent application update
The past several months have been active ones for
meetings-related litigation and court decisions. Here are three
items of note.
A recent Florida case involved a package-tour company that canceled
some bookings related to the 2002 Winter Olympics. The company had
made several deposits for a total of $2.5 million to secure hotel
rooms in Salt Lake City, then later backed out of the deals and
asked for a refund.
In the complaint, the tour operator blamed 9/11, the anthrax
scare, terrorism, hostilities in Afghanistan and a perception that
the Olympics would likely be targeted by terrorists. The tour
company contended these circumstances affected the ability of the
Olympic Games to be held in a manner reasonably contemplated by the
parties at the time that they entered into the hotel
The defendant hotels argued, among other points, that the events
did not affect the Olympic Games and were not sufficient to trigger
the force majeure clause.
An appellate court has reversed a lower court’s dismissal of the
suit, and sent the case back to trial for interpretation of the
force majeure clause, which specified that deposits would be
refunded in the event of material acts “affecting the ability of
the Olympic Games to be held.”
The higher court found the clause to be ambiguous and ruled that
the trial court shouldn’t have dismissed the case without allowing
a judge or a jury to interpret the language of the contract after
hearing the evidence during a trial. The phrase “affecting the
ability of the Olympic Games to be held,” the justices wrote, could
mean preventing the Games altogether, as the defendant claimed, or
simply affecting them in some manner, as the plaintiff
The lesson here: Keep ambiguous wording such as “inadvisable”
or, as in this case, “affecting the ability of the event to be
held” out of force majeure clauses. Be as specific as possible to
avoid such entanglements.
DATES ON HOLD
In the oft-volatile world of trade and consumer shows, a promoter
has alleged that Kansas City officials breached a promise to allow
the promoter to conduct a 2004 boat and RV show, claiming the dates
were given away in violation of city policies.
According to newspaper reports, the boat show promoter had been
tentatively awarded dates for its annual show to be held in
February 2004, but no contract had yet been signed. In September
2002, the city’s Department of Convention and Entertainment Centers
moved the show back a week to accommodate an auto show during the
same week in February.
The basic snarling point is money: Which show will generate the
most income for the city? The auto show apparently was worth twice
as much as the boat show.
The lesson for the plaintiff: Litigation could have been avoided
if a contract had been signed, with a clause stating the show could
not be bumped without the plaintiff’s written consent.
Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and
Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which
specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal
questions can be e-mailed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year a number of associations and suppliers in the meetings
industry received letters from Software Management Inc. indicating
it had filed a patent application claiming ownership of methods of
handling online registration. That application still has not been
acted on by the U.S. Patent Office, possibly because SMI’s
application is extremely complicated (it touches on about 160
different points). If the full patent is issued, planners
themselves might end up owing royalties any time they use an online
registration service that features one of the technologies covered
by the patent.
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