If the U.S. goes to war with Iraq, will meeting professionals be able to terminate their meeting contracts without paying sizable penalties? It all depends on the force majeure clause in their contracts.

Clause: Force Majeure

“Either party's performance under this agreement is subject to acts of God, war (declared or undeclared), government regulation, terrorism, disaster, strikes, civil disorder, curtailment of transportation facilities, or similar occurrence beyond the party's control, making it impossible, illegal, or commercially impracticable for one or both parties to perform its obligations under this agreement, in whole or in part. Either party may terminate this agreement without liability for any one or more of such reasons upon written notice to the other party within ten (10) days of such occurrence or receipt of notice of any of the above occurrences.”

Effect: You Need to Get Specific

In the event of war, the legal question would become: Did the act of “war (declared or undeclared)” render the group's performance “impossible, illegal, or commercially impracticable?” In general, the act of war would have to have a direct and immediate effect on the meeting to be used as a reason for full or partial termination of the contract without liability. If, for example, the government grounds airline operations because of safety concerns and attendees cannot fly in to a meeting, the group would be able to terminate the contract without liability.

Planners should be sure that all contracts have a termination/force majeure clause that specifically mentions war. For contracts not yet signed, planners may want to consider modifying the force majeure clause to include the unequivocal right to terminate without liability if the United States goes to war.

Tyra W. Hilliard, Esq., CMP (tyra@mindspring.com) is a meeting industry lawyer and assistant professor of event and meeting management at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.