Print Posted By Admin - Blog Contributor on 09/20/2017

Preparing for the worst: Why a force majeure contract clause for wedding venues and vendors is essential

Preparing for the worst: Why a force majeure contract clause for wedding venues and vendors is essential

The Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge, though completely unforeseen, is the kind of misfortune every Oregon wedding venue and vendor should prepare for. They can do that with a special "force majeure" clause within their service contracts, says Christie Asselin, attorney and author behind

“An act of God could happen anywhere and at any time,” Asselin says. “That’s why it’s important for all vendors to consider having a force majeure provision in their standard contracts.”

Force majeure is a provision within a contract that excuses a party from performing under certain circumstances which are beyond the party’s control, Asselin adds. “These circumstances must make performance of the contract illegal, inadvisable, impossible or impracticable.”

Typically, the circumstances can include extreme weather, natural disasters, acts of war, lightning damage and so on. 

The line between force majeure and bad luck circumstances can get murky, Rob Schenk, author of Wedding Industry Law says. A wedding professional should always account for probable circumstances, such as rush-hour traffic or road pile-ups, which would not be considered force majeure events. However, a sudden protest that locks down the interstate cannot truly be predicted and therefore would likely fall under force majeure, Schenk says.

Other things that would not count as force majeure: a computer malfunction, faulty camera or stereo, vehicle breakdown and so on, Schenk says, "mostly because they are within the reasonable control of the wedding professional. The vendor, in agreeing to the terms of the contract, is implicitly informing the client that he or she will be able to perform the contractually obligitary tasks with the necessary equipment."

Wedding professionals should specify which occurrences would be covered under the provision to clear up confusion ahead of time. A force majeure clause is not required to be included in a service contract, but should always be added to protect the wedding professional from being sued for breach of contract and to set expectations for refunds and/or rescheduling if disaster strikes.

"Generally, a force majeure event discharges the party's duty to perform," Schenk says. "As such, both [the wedding party and professional] go back to square one with money returned, less expenses, up to that point."

He added that some force majeure clauses "require the parties to just place everything on hold until the force majeure event has stopped. In wedding terms, this would mean working with the client to reschedule." In that event, no refund would be issued, Schenk says. 

When the Eagle Creek Fire caused Bridal Veil Lakes and Port of Cascade Locks to close and cancel weddings, both venues offered full refunds to affected couples. However, the terms of a venue or vendor’s contract if catastrophe strikes are ultimately up to them. In any case, intentions should be clearly stated, Asselin says. It’s wise to have assistance from legal counsel when creating these provisions as laws may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 

What else should be factored in? Disaster probabilities relative to the area one is providing services in.

“A vendor should really think about what specific situations could or are likely to arise that would prevent them from performing the contract,” Asselin says. “For example, in Southern California, a vendor should certainly include fire as one of the triggers.”

Oregon can endure unpredictable weather in the wintertime, resulting in business and road closures, as it did in the Portland area in late 2016 and earlier this year. The state also faces the very real possibility of earthquakes. Both of these natural occurrences could make wedding services improbable to provide.

Above all, force majeure provisions need to be realistic. If a wedding venue or vendor decides not to provide any refund for services that did not take place due to an act of God, “the couple could make an argument to recoup any money given to the vendor, for services not rendered,” Asselin says. This would rely, of course, on the circumstances, “but I think a court would have a hard time enforcing the contract since the event never took place, and the services were never rendered.” Asselin adds. 

Couples that are uncomfortable by certain contract verbiage can opt to purchase separate wedding insurance, but reasonable contract terms can help them feel more trusting of the vendors they decide to work with. 

Tessa Gourneau, who plans to wed in the Gorge in May 2018, says even though she is not concerned about another fire hitting the area around her wedding date, the recent occurrence does urge her to peer deeper into contracts she’ll be signing for her big day.

“Anything can happen,” Gourneau says.

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