Chicago-based nonprofit of cancer survivors dispute $56K hotel cancellation fee amid COVID-19 outbreak

ByJason Knowles and and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, March 20, 2020
Blood and Marrow Transplant Information Network disputes $56K Hilton hotel cancellation fee amid COVID-19 outbreak
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Cancer survivors turned to the ABC 7 I-Team, saying their nonprofit was on the hook for $56,000 for a symposium.

Chicago (WLS) -- The nonprofit Blood and Marrow Transplant Information Network is based in Chicago and made up of hundreds of cancer survivors and others with immune deficiencies who have had blood and marrow transplants. They are among the most at risk people as COVID-19 strikes. But they say a large hotel chain was giving them trouble over canceling an upcoming event.

"Our population of people who would be attending this event are the most vulnerable in this corona environment," said Susan Stewart, who runs the network. She's also a cancer survivor, using an oxygen tank due to lung damage she says she suffered from chemotherapy.

Stewart, her group and their attorneys have been in a heated battle with the Hilton Boston Logan Airport.

"Over $56,000 dollars for a small non-for-profit organization like us is a huge amount of money," Stewart explains.

The group was contracted for an event which would have as many as two to three hundred of its members attend a conference at the end of April. Now, because of COVID-19 concerns they want out of the deal.

"The most sensible thing to do is cancel this contract, take a breath and once we know-when it is safe to hold the live event again we will schedule and we will certainly consider Hilton again," says Stewart.

Emails from a senior sales manager at the Hilton from last week indicated the group would still be responsible for the $5,000 deposit. The email and the contract indicates the grand total amount owed would be $56,420 for cancellation damages, for cancelling between 90 days and 31 days in advance of the event.

"This is putting a lot of stress particularly on our population patients, they are scared to death they don't want to get the virus," said Stewart.

The group was trying to use the impossibility clause of the contract but Hilton had said it did not apply because there was nothing withholding the hotel from holding the event.

"There is a clause in the contract called the impossibility clause and we evoked the impossibility Clause because Hilton cannot provide a safe environment for our folks," said Stewart.

Hilton was offering them a credit saying it could hold the $5,000 deposit towards another booking if the group made another commitment by the end of December.

But Stewart said, "For us that's not ideal, given this climate we have no idea how long this virus situation is going to continue and I cant in good faith say to Hilton we will hold the meeting in September or even may of next year because we don't know."

The I-Team emailed the Hilton media representatives and they said they were working with the group last week to : "...negotiate a resolution that was fair to both sides..." when the "...hotel remained open and fully operational..."

However this week, things changed when Massachusetts mandated a ban on public gatherings of 25 or more people.

Hilton said, "As a result of the recent state mandate, we are working with the client to return their deposit for the event."

The group confirmed that it no longer owes that large penalty fee and that their full deposit is being returned.

"I think last week when they sent that letter they were a bit tone deaf. I think they didn't really fully appreciate the gravity of the situation," said Stewart.

Hilton added that the health and well-being of guests and team members is their highest priority. And that the hotel is actively monitoring updates from government agencies and are responsive to public health expert advice.

If you are in a contract that you can't get out of, a change in federal, state or local health mandates may be a legal reason for you to break the deal.