Force majeure clauses have been standard in contracts dating back hundreds of years in the United States—and even longer in Europe. “Force majeure,” which is French for “greater force,” removes liability for unforeseen events that prevent parties from fulfilling contractual obligations.
In a year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, these clauses have gone from boilerplate basics to something worthy of further examination and attention in order to minimize risk for all parties involved in a construction project. Prior to COVID-19, drafters might have considered a localized or regional event that would lead to invoking a force majeure clause. It is doubtful, however, that anybody envisioned the impact on such a world-wide scale.
UNDERSTANDING THE AGREEMENTS
Force majeure clauses cover unforeseen events, a broad term that encompasses both acts of God and human-caused incidents. These range from natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes to acts of terrorism, strikes, political strife, government actions, war and other difficult- or impossible-to-predict disruptions. When such an event occurs, the force majeure clause attempts to remove, or at least reduce, uncertainty as to the rights and liabilities of the parties to the agreement.
Reprinted courtesy of Michael E. Carson, Construction Executive, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All rights reserved.