Does Force Majeure Cover Baltimore Cancellations?

By Stephanie Davis Smith, May 5, 2015

As association and specialty groups begin to cancel conferences in Baltimore over the next few days due to riots over the death of Freddie Gray, hotel room blocks are being put on the chopping block. Many planners may be wondering, does force majeure cover event cancellations amid Baltimore riots?

FIA, a trade organization for the futures, options and cleared swaps markets worldwide, cancelled its Law & Compliance Conference slated for April 29-May 1 at Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel. A statement on its website says: “If you have a room booked within the FIA room block at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, your room has been cancelled without penalty. No action on your part is needed.”

The FIA conference is being rescheduled for a later date and attendees’ registration fees will be applied once dates are confirmed. However, delegates will be eligible for a refund if they’re not able to attend over new dates.

Organizers for Door and Hardware Institute’s CoNEXTions 2015 Convention, which also cancelled its event scheduled for April 29-May 1, posting this statement on its website: “Because of our contracts with the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Sheraton and Days Inn, we have negotiated with them to accept your reservation cancellation without any cancellation charges.” However, they warned if attendees made reservations with other hotels, they responsible for their own fees. The group also mentioned they are “working as quickly as we can through the legal issues of our obligations with the Baltimore Convention Center and a myriad of service providers and vendors.”

Does force majeure apply for a planner or organization canceling due to rioting in a host city? “Generally, a cancellation like this would be covered, but it is a function of the language in the contract provision,” advises Richard Roth, owner of The Roth Law Firm, PLLC in New York City. “That is why getting competent counsel [to review your contract] is so important.”

Roth adds, “If an attorney limits the force majeure provision simply to an ‘act of god’ and nothing else, the hotel could argue that the event planner would have to pay the entire price for the show and yet no one would attend.”

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