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Can I apply a Force Majeure clause?

If a contract contains a force majeure clause this may become operative due to the coronavirus pandemic and related emergency legislation. Such clauses exist to ensure that if some unforeseen event prevents a party from being able to perform their obligations under a contract, either on time or at all, they will be excused from their obligations and not be held liable for non-performance.

The clause must actually be written into the contract to have effect – a force majeure clause cannot be implied into a contract. Whether it can be relied on by a party will depend on the wording of the clause itself as it may only be applicable in certain limited circumstances.

You should seek legal advice at an early stage if you think that force majeure is relevant, because a number of potentially complex issues must be addressed, many of which will turn upon the exact wording of the force majeure clause in the contract in question:

  • Has a force majeure event actually arisen?
  • What notification process do you have to follow to rely on the provision?
  • What mitigation steps do you have to take?
  • What is the effect of the force majeure event – is the contract suspended, or can it be terminated (which might not be what you want)?