Conference organiser, 21st Century Holdings, has been pursued through the courts by a disgruntled conference attendee after he paid $15,000 for a ticket which included time with Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson.
The deputy president of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard last week that Benjamin Trotter would have expected to pay about $2,500 to attend such an event without having a feature like attendance at that dinner.
Trotter claimed the 21st Century Holdings employee who negotiated the sale of the ticket told him the ticket price included the right to attend an exclusive dinner for 20 ticket holders with “one-on-one contact” with Branson, and five complimentary tickets for friends.
He asked the employee how long the one-on-one meeting with Branson would last and was told the meeting would be 10-15 minutes duration.
Trotter said on the weekend of the conference the dinner on Sunday night did not start until about 9.45pm and Branson sat up one end of a long table with the other speakers and Trotter did not get to speak directly to him. 21st Century Holdings proved Trotter had a personal meeting with Branson because the two appeared in a posed photograph but “in substance” the conference organisers conceded the meeting had been “very brief”.
VCAT found Trotter had “lost” a substantial part of 20 minutes out of a two-day event.
Trotter says the 20 minutes he lost were of much greater value to him than the remaining time, leading VCAT to acknowledge that “it seems to be simplistic” to approach the matter by calculating that Trotter lost 20 minutes out of 16 hours and to say that he is, therefore, entitled to a refund of 1.92%.
“But that is where the general rule against the recovery of damages for injured feelings, disappointment and distress comes into play,” the tribunal said.
“Generally, damages will not be awarded for injured feelings, disappointment and distress resulting from the fact that a contract has been broken.”
Subjectively, Trotter said the 20 minutes was “worth” the whole $15,000 to him.
However, VCAT found this assertion ignored that he gained a benefit by bringing five friends to the event, and that he went other presentations during the conference, a cocktail party, and to the dinner.
“The tribunal cannot assess damages by considering its own subjective view of what something is ‘worth’,” VCAT found.
“People may have vastly different views on what something is worth – consider art works or antiques, or consider the comparison between attending an excellent performance by an unknown musician with an average performance by a famous musician.”
VCAT awarded Trotter $288, – 1.92% of $15,000 – with no compensation for the disappointment he experienced and no refund.
Dennis McIntyre, director of 21st Century Holding, told SmartCompany the outcome of the case was “as expected” as all the services Trotter had paid for were provided.
“It really came out in the end that he was just disappointed and probably some misperception on what he had actually received,” McIntyre says.
“He had every opportunity to speak to Richard Branson and we had even encouraged to speak to him, all the other clients were completely happy.”