Weddings, Contracts & COVID-19

Before entering into a marital contract, couples and newlyweds may enter into a number of other contractual relationships. From vendors for decor & entertainment to catering and venues, there are a number of legal implications to be considered when unforeseen circumstances arise and threaten to disrupt contractual performance.

COVID-19 & Weddings

With COVID-19's current impact on the airline industry with restrictions in place on international travel and upon large social gatherings, the wedding industry has experienced significant disruption. So what does that mean for wedding vendors, venues and couples facing wedding cancellations or postponements?

Force Majeure

"Force majeure" clauses generally discharge a contracting party from the obligation to perform when an unanticipated event, beyond the control of either party, renders performance impossible or significantly different than what was anticipated. Many commercial agreements contain "force majeure" clauses which provide for parties to be excused of their contractual obligations in the event of serious unforeseen circumstances. These clauses are applicable when unforeseen events, such as an "act of God", government action or change in legislation takes place, so as to disrupt contractual performance. To be applicable, a force majeure clause has to be contained within the written contract.

A party seeking to rely on a force majeure clause must first establish that the intervening event falls within the contract's definition of force majeure. In most contracts, there typically is a list outlining specific triggering events and terminology that is covered. Some contracts contain broader catch-all phrases such as "other events beyond the reasonable control of the parties." Such assessments would likely be conducted on a case-by-case basis and will depend on the language of the contract and the facts of each individual case.

It is important to note that the party seeking to invoke a force majeure clause must establish that the event sufficiently impacted contractual performance. Some force majeure clauses set out the degree of requisite impact required for applicability, ranging higher standards of performance being "rendered impossible," to lower standards such as performance being "delayed." Where the requisite impact is not specified in the agreement, Canadian courts have typically applied a higher threshold. An event that has made the performance more costly or unprofitable is insufficient to trigger the application of a force majeure clause.

The Doctrine of Frustration

Frustration occurs where an event occurs after entering into a contract, which renders performance impossible or radically different than negotiated and goes to the very root of the contract. The doctrine of frustration may apply in situations where there is no force majeure clause contained in the applicable contract.

It is not enough for a contract to simply become more onerous or more difficult to perform. Rather, a party must show that the original purpose of the contract has been undermined and it would be unjust for them to be bound to the contract under the existing circumstances.

Where the doctrine of frustration is applicable, the effect of the doctrine of frustration is to discharge parties from their contractual obligations. Cases involving frustration are determined by the courts based on their specific facts. Given the significance of its impact, the threshold for establishing frustration is very high.

Venues & Vendors

Venues and vendors facing losses incurred due to business interruption as per COVID-19 are advised to reach out to their insurance providers to see if they are able to claim for any of their losses based on their insurance coverage.

Mitigation & Cooperation for Venders and Couples to Consider

In any situation where losses are likely to be incurred, contractual parties have a duty to mitigate. Parties would be advised to consider and discuss any viable options if possible in regards to accommodations, rescheduling or postponements if available. Relying on force majeure and frustration claims should be viewed as a last resort where conversations and negotiations have stalled or broken down.

As businesses begin to reopen and restrictions begin to ease, we encourage couples, vendors and venues to stay apprised of updates that impact the wedding industry. ( Link here)

For more complex issues and questions pertaining to wedding contracts with venues, vendors, or couples in relation to refunds, deposits or monies paid for weddings and other contracts – where performance is now in question as a result of COVID-19, please contact one of the lawyers at our firm to discuss your rights and options.

Originally published 03 July, 2020

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.