A COVID-19 Quandary: Does a Force Majeure Clause Displace the Frustration Doctrine?

The frustration (or “frustration of purpose”) doctrine excuses a party from its contractual obligations when an extraordinary event completely undermines its principal purpose in making the deal. Historically, the doctrine has played a marginal role in contract law, as parties very rarely invoked it – and almost always without success. Courts are understandably reluctant to relieve parties from their contracts and will only do so in very unusual cases. Thus, frustration has long been an obscure doctrine, taught in law schools but infrequently litigated in court.

All that changed in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic – and government orders to … Read more

COVID-19: Impossible Contracts and Force Majeure

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 – as well as government orders to contain it – have prevented countless people, babysitters to basketball players, from fulfilling their contracts. Are all of these parties legally liable for breaching their contracts? Or are they excused due to this extraordinary event? What about payments made in advance, such as tickets bought for a concert that has now been canceled, or a dorm room leased at a college that is now closed?

This coronavirus is new, but wars, floods, and even other pandemics have upset innumerable contracts over the years. In response, our courts … Read more