Weather Week Legalese: Force Majeure

While we are on the topic of extreme weather, let’s talk about force majeure. French for superior force, force majeure is a standard clause found in many service contracts that addresses things like acts of God that could interfere with your wedding. If your contract does not include a force majeure clause, you should request that one be added. It should be written to exempt both the client and the vendor from being required to carry out the terms of the contract — either paying the fees or providing the services — because of extreme circumstances that could not be anticipated and/or are beyond their control.

I asked my legal advisor, Katy Carrier, of California-based Carrier & Associates to give some examples of how force majeure clauses work:

“This could be a situation where the duties are performed late — like the photographer showing up late to the wedding due to hurricane-force winds that knocked down a tree that then obstructed the freeway that led to the venue — in which case the photographer has not breached the contract by showing up two hours late and would not be required to refund any money to the clients. Or the client failing to pay the second half of the fee on time because there was a delay in the mail due to a heightened terrorism threat — in which case the photographer or other vendor could not terminate the contract due the clients’ failure to pay the fees on time as required in the contract, but of course the clients are still required to pay.

“It could also be a scenario where the event is called off in its entirety due to a force majeure event, whether that is severe weather, a fire at the venue, a terrorist attack, etc. In this case, the application of the force majeure clause can be varied, but courts generally agree that principles of equity and reasonableness should be applied.”

The most common and important scenario covered by the typical force majeure clause is an act of God such as a blizzard, hurricane, earthquake or tornado. But the clause should also specify a number of other occurrences that could affect your wedding day, from acts of war or terrorism, to civil disturbances (as in riots) and work stoppage (as in union strikes). While I certainly hope that acts of terrorism do not impact your wedding plans, they are not something you want to ignore; while you may not have a riot at your house, a riot in another area could prevent you from getting to your hair salon on time for your bridal hair appointment. The act of war clause will be most applicable to brides or grooms who may become deployed to a combat zone or have their leave from deployment changed, requiring them to reschedule their wedding. The force majeure clause should spell out exactly what will happen to the fees you previously paid and the money you owe in the event that this clause must be executed.

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