Define the term “force majeure” for me. Looking online, there are several:
- it’s French for “superior force”
- act of God: a natural and unavoidable catastrophe that interrupts the expected course of events (WordNet)
- a common clause in contract which essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties (Wikipedia)
- an unavoidable catastrophe (Wiktionary)
So what’s the common theme? It’s the ability to AVOID a particular set of actions. In other words, force majeure events are those which are unavoidable or unforeseeable. If you only click one link above, do the one for Wikipedia and learn about the three-part test in French and international law for what constitutes a force majure event. UCC Section 2-615, “Excuse by Failure of Presupposed Conditions” and the Restatement of Contracts 2d, Section 261 “Excused Nonperformance” also include multi-part tests.
But we’ve gotten lax in contract drafting in the US and folks have assumed that force majeure clauses (those that allow a party to not perform as a result of one of these types of events) were continually written with actual unavoidable events listed. In fact, almost every force majeure clause I now see contains at least one, if not more, of the following things as force majeure events:
- strikes/labor disputes
- telecommunication difficulties
- supply chain problems
- terrorism and war (sometimes even phrased as “acts of the public enemy”)
- government regulation
Unfortunately, these are not force majeure events. Why? Because most of them can be planned for… and even something like terrorism and war (especially when they’re happening right now), should be planned for. If you can plan for them, they’re foreseeable. And if they’re foreseeable, they’re not unforeseeable. See where I’m going with this? 🙂
So when you strike these items out of the force majure event clause, you’re going to get push back because people don’t want to be responsible for planning in all eventualities. You’re not asking them to do it. Rather, you’re asking that contract performance not be hindered or halted as a result of things that are capable of having a backup plan. Which means that you could, if you were so inclined, draft language which allows for these items to be force majeure only if they were part of a backup plan that still was impeded. In other words, you’ll give these items force majure weight if the party claiming force majeure can show that they had planned for them properly, but still ran into trouble.
Oh, and by the way, force majeure also isn’t one-size-fits-all. Would you EVER list telecommunication difficulties in a contract with your telephone service provider? Additionally, force majeure protections should benefit BOTH parties, even if one party’s sole obligation is to cut a check. Payment can be made quite difficult by floods and hurricanes, just ask the good people in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi about business deals during Katrina.