Definition of force majeure
From French greater force
force majeure (plural forces majeures)
- an overwhelming force
- (law) an unavoidable catastrophe, especially one that prevents someone from fulfilling a legal obligation
Force Majeure (French for "superior force"), also known as cas fortuit (French) or casus fortuitus (Latin), is a common clause in contracts which essentially 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" (e.g., flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption), prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract. However, force majeure is not intended to excuse negligence or other malfeasance of a party, as where non-performance is caused by the usual and natural consequences of external forces (e.g., predicted rain stops an outdoor event), or where the intervening circumstances are specifically contemplated.
The importance of the force majeure clause in a contract, particularly one of any length in time, cannot be overstated as it relieves a party from an obligation under the contract (or suspends that obligation). What is permitted to be a force majeure event or circumstance can be the source of much controversy in the negotiation of a contract and a party should generally resist any attempt by the other party to include something that should, fundamentally, be at the risk of that other party. For example, in a coal-supply agreement, the mining company may seek to have "geological risk" included as a force majeure event; however, the mining company should be doing extensive exploration and analysis of its geological reserves and should not even be negotiating a coal-supply agreement if it cannot take the risk that there may be a geological limit to its coal supply from time to time. The outcome of that negotiation, of course, depends on the relative bargaining power of the parties and there will be cases where force majeure clauses can be used by a party effectively to escape liability for bad performance.
In Hackney Borough Council v. Dore (1922) 1 KB 431 it was held that "The expression means some physical or material restraint and does not include a reasonable fear or apprehension of such a restraint".
The expression bears more extensive meaning than "act of God" or vis major. As to delay due to breakdown of machinery, it comes within the words "force majeure", which certainly cover accidents to machinery. The term cannot, however, be extended to cover bad weather, football matches, or a funeral. Matsoukis v. Priestman & Co (1915) 1 KB 681.
The expression is undoubtedly a term of wider import than vis major. Judges have agreed that strikes, breakdown of machinery, which though normally not included in vis major, are included in force majeure.
In re Dharnrajmal Gobindram v. Shamji Kalidas [All India Reporter 1961 Supreme Court (of India) 1285] it was held that "An analysis of ruling on the subject shows that reference to the expression is made where the intention is to save the defaulting party from the consequences of anything over which he had no control".
Under international law it refers to an irresistible force or unforeseen event beyond the control of a State making it materially impossible to fulfill an international obligation. Force majeure precludes an international act from being wrongful where it otherwise would have been.
In December 2008, Donald Trump claimed that a recession could be a force majeure, though proving it in court would be difficult at best. Others, such as Peter Schiff and Jim Rogers predicted the financial events precipitated in 2007.
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