The construction of force majeure clauses (Totsa v New Stream)

The claimant applied for summary judgment on its claim for the repayment of money advanced to the defendant under a contract for the supply of goods. The defendant was unable to deliver the goods in question, asserting that this was as a result of a force majeure event, and that the repayment clause in question did not accordingly apply. For the purposes of the summary judgment application, it was assumed that a force majeure event had occurred, and valid notice given pursuant to the terms of the contract. The court held that, on a proper construction of the terms of the contract, the obligation was for the seller to repay the advance payment if the product was not delivered when due (subject to any extension) for any reason whatsoever. In particular, as a result of the broad and all inclusive language of the repayment clause, the obligation to repay was not affected by any force majeure event, despite there being some cross-referencing between the force majeure clause and the repayment clause. In fact, the court held that the cross-referencing, if not completely surplusage, was demonstrating that it would be open to the parties to agree a different course if they so chose in light of a force majeure event occurring (understandable in light of such a stark and wide-ranging phrase as ‘if for any reason whatsoever…the product has not been delivered…’) but that they had not done so.

First published by Lexis®PSL on 10 November 2020

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