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Could COVID-19 be qualified as a Force Majeure event?

Posted by: exsusgroup
Category: Cyprus News

The ‘force majeure’ term is commonly used in commercial contracts to define incidents that may occur and are totally beyond the control of the parties.  The basis of this provision is to protect the parties from any liability in case they are unable to comply with the provisions of the contract for reasons outside of their control.

The degree of protection that these provisions may offer can vary from country to country even within Europe, owing to the various definitions of ‘force majeure’ across the legal systems of different Member States. Therefore, it will depend on the relevant laws of the country that the parties have designated in the contract and the parties are thus encouraged to seek legal advice on the subject.

In common law jurisdictions such as Cyprus, there is no concept of force majeure, and therefore every case is decided on its own basis. It is worth noting that a ‘force majeure’ provision would not necessarily enable the parties to avoid potential liability for any violation of the terms of the contract. Parties shall be able to rely on this provision only if it is expressly included in the contract and in order to benefit from it, it is important that such clause be as detailed and specific as possible in terms and context.

Having said the above, whether a particular clause relieves a party of contractual liability will, under Cyprus law, depend on the precise wording used in the clause, the allocation of risk between the parties provided for by the contract as a whole, the circumstances in which the parties entered into the contract, and the situation that has arisen.

The inclusion of the words “virus” or “pandemic” or “epidemic” in force majeure clauses is likely to be adequate, particularly in view of the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently classified COVID-19 as such.  However, this is not without saying that a review of the wording of the relevant clause would not be necessary.

It is also worth noting that in the absence of a force majeure clause, the so-called doctrine of frustration can provide the party with an alternative path to terminate the contract. The contract becomes frustrated when performance becomes impossible due to some unexpected incident beyond the control of the parties. In Cyprus, the issue is dealt with under section 56(2) of the Contract Law (Cap. 149), as amended, which releases a party from liability under such circumstances.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and does not constitute legal advice.

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