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Is Reimbursement Appropriate Here?

Hello everyone! I recently completed a job for a client that required designing some art show labels as well as having them printed and mounted on foam core. I have worked with him several times in the past and completed 2 other similar jobs, using identical materials and processes without incidents. This time, however, things were different. The labels were mounted and delivered to the artist locally on December 17th. They remained in her home until January 22nd, when they were picked up by a delivery company, and driven to the exhibition in Texas. It is my understanding that they were in a truck that was not climate controlled. I received a sudden slurry of messages yesterday morning stating that the panels have bubbles, and are very damaged. The pictures that they sent over don't look as though they are simple construction issues but rather appear to be caused by damage from either moving or poor handling/storage. They have been out of my hands for over a month at this point. They did not leave my studio in a damaged state - I have pictures of the labels at my home prior to packaging them, and they have zero damage present whatsoever. 


The client is pretty upset, and told me that they are currently "self destructing" and he will need to have them remounted by a sign maker. He wants me to either cover that cost or refund him for the amount of the job.  Had I known about the condition of these earlier, I would have been more than happy to remake them, even if I felt the damage was not related to my own construction. This was told to me about 6 hours before the exhibition opened, and it was a scramble.

I’m not sure what the best course of action would be for getting this resolved. I feel like the panels have been out of my possession for so long that this damage falls on the responsibility of the delivery company or the museum, especially after documenting the condition of them at my home studio hours before packing them up. I would love to get your insight as freelancers. What do you think would be the best course of action here? 

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I'd make sure the client acknowledges that this was his fault and not yours. Then, assuming you want to keep working with him and stay on good terms, maybe offer to do them again but at a discount. No way should you redo them for free, IMO.

I am certainly no longer interested in continuing our partership. This is not the first time that he's been difficult, but it has never come down to anything like this. As the panels were completely out of my possession for over a month with absolutely no communication, I do not feel I should refund him, even if it's a partial amount. I would only be doing it just to get him off my back, not in admittance to wrongdoing. 

I should also mention, that in previous replies to his complaint yesterday, I attempted to get him to realize this was out of my hands, yet the email I received this morning was very rude and demanding, stating that replacement is my "responsibility" and that he should not be out money for having to get these replaced. He is very adamant that I owe him the money because he is convinced the materials I used were faulty.

Community Member

What really matters here are the practicalities:


When did the client last release payment (date).

The client can dispute with Upwork up to 30 days after the last milestone has been released.


I'd be inclined to send the client the photos of the labels before they left your premises and politely but firmly point out that what you sent was in perfect condition and fit for the purpose.


Then wait and see what happens. Is the contract still open or closed?

Everything has been closed and payment was sent a few days before the delivery was made on the 17th. I have heard nothing from him since. The artist, who was the recipient of the delivery until it was shipped to Texas this month observed no damage. I sent those photos immediately upon receiving his complaints and he has continued to be adamant that they were somehow defective and are self destructing. I have firmly told him that I can only speak to the condition they were in and the way they were handled up until drop off but anything beyond that is completely out of my control. My best guess is that humidity and mishandling could have caused the damage and bubbling. 

Brandon F wrote:

Everything has been closed and payment was sent a few days before the delivery was made on the 17th. 

Then he can't do anything meaningful through Upwork any longer.


I'd just send one final response that you are sorry that this happened to your work after it left your hands in perfect condition, but that you are not responsible for what happened to it, and then end communication.

See if the client does anything else after that. I doubt you'll get them on side again rehardless.

How much money are we talking about?

Nothing crazy. It's a $300 job. My main concern is just ensuring I have a right and protection to refuse a refund given that I truly believe these were sent out in perfect condition with no issues. As I said also, I have done two other labeling jobs in the exact same fashion for him and those have not had any issues whatsoever. 

Wow, you designed, printed, mounted and shipped labels all for $300? That sounds like a lot of hassle even before the client turned into a PITA. Do you have professional indemnity insurance? I would recommend it if you're doing a lot of jobs like that. Personally, I stopped print brokering ages ago because it was just too much stress if anything went wrong - clients always blame you and not the printer or the delivery people. It's not worth it.

Brandon F wrote:

Nothing crazy. It's a $300 job. 

So it wouldn't be worth his while to try and sue you and he can no longer dispute through Upwork. 


Brandon F wrote:

My main concern is just ensuring I have a right and protection to refuse a refund 

You have the right to refuse a refund, as far as "protection" is concerned, you are protected from an Upwork dispute (the worst that could happen is "mediation" which has no teeth as it's outside the 30 day period). 

You are not protected from the client trying to take legal action or from a chargeback, The former is unlikely, the latter would see the client suspended from Upwork and neither are worth worrying about unless they actually happen, which they, more likely than not, won't.

I'm definitely no expert but I think legal action is a possibility in situations like this, if this was some big fancy exhibition and there were delays to the opening  or they can prove damages in some way. That's why I'd recommend insurance. (Or, tell clients to find their own printers from now on.)


I was once responsible for a $20,000 print job and very nearly signed off on it, it was only at the last minute that I noticed one panel was upside-down.  I would have had to pay to get the whole thing redone. I still have nightmares about it!

The client definitely can claim damages, but for that to stand, they would have to go to the correct party, which in that case seems to be the carrier, unless OP selected the carrier and was negligent, e.g. did not make sure the transport conditions were appropriate for the product. But usually, the carrier is liable for transport damages, and they have insurance for that, so that's where client should direct his anger. 


Christine A wrote:

I'm definitely no expert but I think legal action is a possibility in situations like this,

Oh I never said it wasn't a possibility. I said it's not worth worrying about it at this stage, because it "more likely than not, won't" happen. If it does, it's too late to take out insurance now. I'd agree it makes sense for the future.


Christine A wrote:

I still have nightmares about it!

I bet! I remember my mother catching a mistake on a prescription at the last moment that could, worst case scenario, have killed a patient. 


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