Cannabis and Force Majeure: If Coronavirus Prevents Contract Performance, Who’s Liable?

Under most U.S. states’ laws, coronavirus likely constitutes a force majeure – an “act of God” – a severe, unforeseeable circumstance beyond the control of any contracting party.  No party created this act of God — both are “innocent parties”; both will likely suffer from breach. Contract clauses governing such unusual events are named force majeure or “hardship”/similar clauses. All such clauses are meant to govern allocation of risks in such unusual circumstances.

Who bears the risks of nonperformance in such unforeseen circumstances? Who can, legally, refuse to refund a deposit? To refuse a payment? Who will lose any claim for breach? As with many legal issues, the answers depend on both contractual and factual circumstances.

As chance would have it, these nonperformance issues were most famously addressed in a series of English court “Coronation Cases,” whose name derives from the same Latin root, “corona” (“crown”), as coronavirus. The coronavirus crown is a set of protein spikes arrayed atop the coronavirus core.  The Coronation Cases’ crown was atop the head of King Edward VII.

Two days before the coronation date, the King required an emergency appendectomy. Many had contracted for hotel rooms and related services only in order to

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