In the world of the building and construction industry, the general rules of contracting are fairly simple. A supplier agrees to supply equipment or materials for a specific price and within a certain time frame, does so, and is paid an agreed sum. Likewise, contractors and subcontractors agree to build structures per plans and specifications within certain time frames and are paid accordingly. Pretty simple. But what happens when some outside event makes performance impossible or unduly expensive or substantially delayed? What happens, for example, if a ship is sitting off the coast of Long Beach for three months with equipment ordered for the project and it cannot be unloaded due to a labor shortage? What if government mandates cause factories that build needed equipment to close due to an epidemic or pandemic? What if the supply warehouse holding the equipment until it is ready for installation unexpectedly burns to the ground? What if a Russian missile blows up the factory in Ukraine where the intended equipment is being manufactured? What happens then? Who bears the financial consequence?
A properly constructed “force majeure” clause may provide the answer to these questions. The Marriam-Webster Dictionary defines “force majeure” as a literal translation from the French meaning “a superior or irresistible force.” It further defines the term as “an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled.” The Oxford Dictionary defines force majeure as “unexpected circumstances, such as a war, that can be used as an excuse when they prevent somebody from doing something that is written in a contract.”