Many planners are scrambling to understand force majeure clauses and their potential impact on future meeting cancellations. Industry attorney Tyra Hilliard, with the Atlanta-area firm Sumner & Associates, P.C., explains what it's all about.

The Latin term "force majeure" is defined as "a higher force, an irresistible force. An event which cannot be definitely foreseen or controlled." That's the definition from a law dictionary, anyway. A force majeure includes, but is not limited to, acts of God. Acts of God are a subset of force majeure. Force majeure is a class of circumstances beyond a party's control that make it impossible or commercially inadvisable to perform the contract at question. Like so many things in the law, there isn't a quick and easy definition. Whether the facts and circumstances surrounding each scenario amount to a force majeure has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, for a national annual meeting starting on Tuesday, 9/11--the national emergency would surely be a force majeure. For an annual meeting starting the following week for a local group--probably not a force majeure.

If you are a planner and have event cancellation insurance, you may want to check your insurance policy to see what it defines as a force majeure, and whether cancellation for one of those reasons is excluded from the policy, as they often are.—Tyra Hilliard