What Does “Superior Force” Mean?

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You may have heard the term “superior force” used in recent weeks due to the pandemic. It may have been given as the reason for the cancellation of shows and sports events or the closing of different institutions. Maybe you, personally, are not able to fulfill some of your obligations at this time. Let’s have a look at the meaning of this expression.

Is the pandemic considered a superior force? It’s too early to know if judges will consider the pandemic to constitute a superior force and, if so, in which situations it will apply. We’ll have to wait for future developments in this regard…

Three criteria to consider

In order for something to constitute a superior force it must meet the following criteria:

  • It must have been unforeseeable, that is, it was impossible to see it coming at the time the contract was made.
  • It must have been impossible to prevent. (The law uses the term “irresistible”, though most people would understand that to mean something different and much more pleasant!)
  • It must have been beyond your control, that is, you did not cause it yourself.

In any legal dispute, a judge will look at the specific facts involved and determine whether an event constitutes a superior force.

Important: The same event may constitute a superior force in one situation but not in another.

Superior force frees you from your obligations

If you cannot fulfill your part of a contract, due to superior force, you are freed from your obligations under the contract. Likewise, you cannot require the other person or company to fulfill their obligations under the contract.

For example, during the ice storm of 1998, the lease of a tenant stated that the landlord had to provide electricity to the apartment. The storm caused widespread power failures. A judge considered this to be a situation of superior force: the landlord was not obliged to provide electricity and the tenant was not obliged to pay the full amount of the rent, which included electricity.