Polish civil law does not define force majeure. However, it provides for legal instruments that allow one of the parties to modify the contract under extraordinary circumstances that make the performance of the contract impossible, or too expensive to be economically viable.
These instruments are:
- Clausula rebus sic stantibus (Latin: "things thus standing"). The legal doctrine allowing for a contract or a treaty to become inapplicable because of a fundamental change of circumstances.
- An inability to perform the contractual obligations.
Under the second instrument, if a contractual obligation becomes objectively impossible, then the obligation will expire. This applies only to extraordinary situations where the performance of an obligation is impossible, and thus this solution is rarely available in issues caused by the COVID pandemic.
Consequently, the Ecovis advisers in Poland recommend that the only effective solution is a precise contractual clause that provides for such situations and forces the parties to modify the contract.
English law is quite different; it is not based on a civil code. There are no consistent rules for what happens on events outside the parties’ control, nor on impossibility.
The ideas in English law which are most comparable are:
- Frustration: A contract may be discharged when something occurs which renders it impossible or radically different from that agreed.
- Impossibility: A party may be excused by a court if the contract becomes impossible.
This is too much uncertainty. Well-advised parties use contracts with explicit force majeure clauses. These typically:
- excuse one or both parties from performance (and liability) on force majeure
- define force majeure as events outside a party’s reasonable control
- give non-exhaustive examples
- contain duties to notify, to mitigate the consequences and to discuss and agree a preferred outcome
- allow the parties to suspend the contract to allow such discussions
- ultimately, allow the affected party to terminate
- contain clear and agreed consequences of termination.
For further information please contact:
Nikodem Multan, Attorney at law, Partner, ECOVIS LEGAL POLAND PRUŚ AND PARTNERS LAW FIRM, Warsaw, Poland
Mark Lucas, Lawyer, Moore Barlow LLP – Member of ECOVIS International, Guildford, Surrey