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Not long ago, force majeure clauses were often afterthoughts in construction contracts, referring in various ways to potential, unforeseeable and uncontrollable catastrophes, each in one mind’s eye as unlikely to then happen as not. After the fact, parties attempted to shoehorn this untested defense to have it apply to a wide range of events — natural and some unnatural. Then came 2020, and with it a new opportunity to put forward a fresh spin on the traditional “force majeure” concept as COVID-19, along with the attendant governmental shutdowns and other actions, brought havoc and uncertainty to the industry. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the effect on the construction litigation visited on us by COVID-19-related impacts. However, the pandemic and its continuing impact has reinforced the importance of planning for the unexpected — and undefined — when negotiating construction contracts, perhaps even where there is no express force majeure clause to which to point.
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By Ann E. Ryan and Adrienne B. Koch
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some tenants were able to negotiate termination agreements with their landlords. But even though a landlord may agree to terminate a lease to regain control of a defaulting tenant’s space without costly and lengthy litigation, typically a defaulting tenant that otherwise has no contractual right to terminate its lease will be in a much weaker bargaining position with respect to the conditions for termination.
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