Force Majeure

Bradford Toney
Updated At


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What is Force Majeure?

Force majeure, a term derived from French, translates literally to "superior force." It refers to a legal concept that frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, or an event described by the legal term act of God (hurricane, flood, earthquake, volcanic eruption, etc.), prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.

In the context of Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs), force majeure clauses are often included in contracts to protect the parties in case such unforeseen events make it impossible to execute the terms of the agreement. Here’s a breakdown of the concept:

  1. Unforeseeable Events: The core of a force majeure clause is that the event must be beyond the control of the contracting parties and could not have been foreseen or prevented.
  2. Contractual Protection: The clause is specifically designed to release a party from their contractual duties without penalties if the event occurs.
  3. Scope and Interpretation: The specific wording of the clause is crucial as it outlines the scope of what is considered force majeure. This can vary from contract to contract.
  4. Notification Requirements: Contracts often require that the affected party notify the other party of the force majeure event within a certain timeframe.
  5. Mitigation: There is generally an expectation that the affected party will make efforts to mitigate the impact of the force majeure event.
  6. Duration and Termination: The clause may also address how long the suspension of obligations lasts and under what conditions the contract may be terminated if the force majeure event continues for an extended period.
  7. Legal Systems: The interpretation and enforcement of force majeure clauses can vary significantly between different legal systems.
  8. Examples in SMB Contracts: For SMBs, force majeure might include events like local strikes affecting supply chains, regional power outages, or natural disasters impacting a business’s physical location.

In summary, force majeure clauses provide a safety net for businesses, allowing them to navigate through unpredictable and uncontrollable events that could otherwise lead to significant legal and financial consequences.

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Force Majeure vs. Breach of Contract

Force Majeure and Breach of Contract are two distinct legal concepts that can both significantly impact SMBs.

  • Force Majeure, as discussed, refers to an unforeseeable event that prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their contractual obligations. This clause is a defensive measure, protecting parties when performance is rendered impossible due to extraordinary circumstances.
  • Breach of Contract, on the other hand, occurs when one party fails to perform any term of a contract without a legitimate legal excuse. This can include not completing a job, not paying on time or in full, not delivering goods as promised, or any other failure to meet the terms as agreed.

Here are the key differences between the two:

  1. Nature of the Event: Force majeure arises from external events that are beyond the control of the parties, while a breach is typically a result of one party’s actions or inactions.
  2. Liability: In force majeure, neither party is held liable for the failure to perform the contract due to the extraordinary event. In a breach, the non-performing party is usually liable for damages.
  3. Remedies: For force majeure, the remedy is often the suspension or termination of the contract. In the case of a breach, the wronged party may seek damages, specific performance, or other legal remedies.
  4. Contractual Clause: Force majeure must be explicitly included in a contract to be invoked, whereas breach of contract is a default position under contract law.
  5. Predictability: Force majeure events are, by nature, unpredictable. A breach can sometimes be foreseen if a party is struggling to meet its obligations.

Understanding the distinction between force majeure and breach of contract is critical for SMBs to manage their contractual risks effectively.

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Why is Force Majeure Important?

Force majeure is an essential concept for Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) for several reasons. Here is a list highlighting its importance:

  1. Risk Management: It provides a mechanism for SMBs to manage risks associated with unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.
  2. Legal Protection: Force majeure clauses offer legal protection from penalties that would otherwise arise from failing to meet contractual obligations due to extraordinary events.
  3. Business Continuity: By allowing contracts to be suspended or terminated without fault in case of force majeure, it helps ensure business continuity.
  4. Financial Stability: It can protect SMBs from financial losses and liabilities that could be devastating if they were held responsible for non-performance due to such events.
  5. Negotiation Leverage: The inclusion of a force majeure clause can be a point of negotiation, providing leverage to ensure fair terms in a contract.
  6. Clarity and Certainty: Clearly defined force majeure clauses provide certainty and a clear path forward when such events occur.
  7. Reputation: It helps maintain business relationships and reputation, as non-performance is attributed to external factors rather than mismanagement.
  8. Global Trade: For SMBs involved in international trade, force majeure clauses address the variability of laws and natural events across different countries.
  9. Insurance: It may interact with insurance policies, affecting claims and coverage when force majeure events occur.
  10. Adaptation and Resilience: Encourages businesses to develop contingency plans and adapt to changing circumstances, enhancing their resilience.

In essence, force majeure clauses are a critical aspect of contractual agreements for SMBs, providing a safeguard against the unpredictable and helping to stabilize operations during tumultuous times.

Imagine you're playing a game where you have to follow specific rules, but suddenly, a wild storm appears, and you can't play anymore. In the real world, when businesses make deals, they also have rules, which are their contracts. Force majeure is like that wild storm—a surprise event that stops businesses from doing what they agreed to in their contract. It's not anyone's fault; it's just something that happens, like a big storm, an earthquake, or even a huge unexpected event that nobody can control.

For small businesses, this is super important. If something crazy happens and they can't do their job, the force majeure part of their contract says it's okay, and they won't get in trouble. It's like a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for business contracts when Mother Nature or something equally wild happens. So, businesses can stay friends and try again when things get back to normal, without anyone getting mad or losing lots of money. That's why force majeure is a big deal—it keeps things fair when the unexpected happens!

  • Hargrave, M. (2023b, December 21). What is a force majeure contract clause, and how does it work? Investopedia.
  • Kenton, W. (2024c, February 28). Breach of Contract explained: Types and consequences. Investopedia.
  • Kati, E. (2023, March 17). Benefits of force majeure clauses | LegalVision UK. LegalVision UK.
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