Posted on Jan 21, 2015 in Intellectual Property by Liam McMonagle
If you organised a party for five year-olds at a ski slope and some didn't turn up, would you invoice the no-shows for a share of the bill?
Julie Lawrence, who organised a fifth birthday party in Plymouth at a ski slope for her child and her classmates, did. Parents of Alex Nash, 5, were surprised to welcome him home from school one day with an invoice for £16.
From a legal point of view, it is hard to see how the debt would be recoverable. There would have to be clear agreement among all the parents whose children were invited that the cost of the event would be met jointly and that, if advance booking was required, any payments were non-refundable.
From the published facts, it's not clear whether the parents of the children who were lucky enough to be able to attend this gathering paid towards the bill or not. If not, it is hard to see how the organiser could substantiate any financial loss because she would have paid had Alex actually attended. She is no worse off because he couldn't make it. Her loss, if anything, would be the loss of the child's company for the afternoon. If it was always understood that the parents would share the costs of the event, then she may be due payment although it is unlikely to be practical or cost-effective to enforce a £16 debt.
As well as a discussion of social etiquette, this also reflects a very common situation in the business world. I assume you are doing something for free/ as a courtesy/ "at risk". You expect to charge for it. You surprise me by presenting me with a bill. You and I fall out. It's very common for legal disputes to arise out of that basic misunderstanding and not necessarily agreeing who is paying for what at any early stage. As always, there is no substitute for clarity and being upfront about things.
As an aside, the law in Scotland and England on the ability of children to enter into legal contracts is slightly different though it would be almost impossible to sue young Alex in either country. In Scotland, any person under 16 cannot enter into a legally binding contract for something like this unless it is of a type commonly entered into by persons of that child's age and is on reasonable terms. It's unlikely that a court would regard the booking of ski slope times as a routine matter for a 5 year old. Insistence on payment in the event of a no-fault cancellation might also be considered unreasonable as it wasn't necessarily Alex's fault that he was required at his grandparents' that day! In England, contracts cannot generally be enforced against persons under 18 years of age other than in exceptional circumstances and this would almost certainly not be one of them.
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