The coronavirus pandemic has seen an increase in the use of the fundamental force majeure contract clause, which discharges certain contractual duties following an event’s occurrence. Exactly what obligations are discharged as well as what circumstances are associated with a force majeure depend on how a contract addresses these terms.
What Constitutes Force Majeure
When a “force majeure” event occurs, it prevents a party from performing its obligation under a contract in that either the event could not have been foreseen or could not have been prevented even with care and diligence. While many people think of natural disasters when considering force majeure clauses, this category can also pertain to wars, government actions, and pandemics.
Just because a specifically enumerated event occurs, does not mean that a force majeure clause becomes effective. Instead, for the force majeure clause to come into play, an event must result in “extreme and unreasonable” difficulty or hardship.
A force majeure event will also not excuse a performance if the failure to perform is the result of a party’s negligence instead of the event itself. If a party to a contract could have prevented the force majeure event, the force majeure will likely not be effective.
The Role of Force Majeure in Business Contracts
There are several ways that parties can be protected if there is a force majeure in their contract. If a contract’s purpose is frustrated or incapable of being performed, the clause can protect a person through the doctrines of impracticability or impossibility.
Force Majeure and the Coronavirus
Because force majeure can encompass government actions that make contract performance impossible, these clauses are likely to come into play in various contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this setting, a force majeure might take the form of a lockdown order or other government action that makes it impossible to perform a contract.
Advice When Considering the Use of a Force Majeure Clause
Some helpful strategies that parties navigating force majeure clauses should remember to follow include:
- If you plan to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to not perform under a force majeure clause, make sure to give the other contracted party ample notice.
- Remember to discuss potential business solutions with the other party. While the coronavirus has resulted in delays in shipment, reduced supplies, and other hardships, it might still be possible to arrive at an acceptable arrangement.
- The strongest arguments that a force majeure event has occurred and made the terms of a contract impossible often involve government actions taken to control COVID-19 as well as unanticipated disruptions of the supply chain.
- Force majeure is a temporary defense and only applies for the time that the event restrains a party’s performance under a contract.
- To learn even more about the relationship between force majeure clauses and the coronavirus pandemic, considering reading the American Bar Association’s recent article “Is the Coronavirus a Force Majeure that Excuses Performance of a Contract?”
Speak with a Knowledgeable Corporate Law Attorney
How “force majeure” applies to the COVID-19 pandemic remains largely unsettled. Fortunately, an experienced corporate law attorney can help you navigate this important issue and many others. Contact Resnick Law PC today to schedule a free case evaluation.