As it pertains to the coronavirus, any broad force majeure clause language should apply since March 11, when the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. It is unlikely any court would decide that any private party has caused the coronavirus. And, many force majeure clauses specifically include “epidemic” or “pandemic” in its laundry list of qualifying events. Even without that specific reference, the coronavirus should qualify under most force majeure clauses due to the government-imposed travel bans and quarantines.
Most courts require the party claiming force majeure to show that the event was not foreseeable and directly caused the failure to meet its contractual obligations. While this is often a close call in weather-related natural disasters—the geographic scope and actual impact on the stream of commerce of a storm is often debatable—a pandemic resulting in mass closures of all public events and schools should not be a close call. This is not a normal risk of doing business. The law does require the mitigation of damages, and many businesses can continue to operate at some, if not full, capacity.
As in any contract matter, strict compliance with the technical requirements of the contract may be necessary for a party to invoke a force majeure clause. Typically, a contract requires prompt notice of a claim of force majeure. Several courts have refused parties’ force majeure claims when they failed to provide adequate notice under the contract.