Vis Major: What it is, How it Works, Exceptions

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Vis Major: What it is, How it Works, Exceptions

Understanding Vis Major: What It Is and How It Works

An inevitable natural event that disrupts or damages something that is neither caused nor prevented by humans—no matter how careful, diligent, or prudent they are—is called a vis major, which means “superior force” in Latin.

Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes are all examples of major. Vis major means “act of God,” “force majeure,” or a natural catastrophe. In the event that one party is unable to perform their contractual duties due to circumstances beyond their control, the other party may be released from responsibility by using these phrases.

Make sure you know exactly what your policy covers and does not cover by reviewing your policy in its entirety if you have property insurance.

Here's an overview of Vis Major and how it works:

  • Understanding Vis Major
  • Defining Vis Major
  • The Legal Concept of Vis Major
    • Characteristics of Vis Major
    • Examples of Major Events
    • Application of Vis Major in Contracts
    • Conclusion
  • Examples of Vis Major
  • How Vis Major Works in Different Industries
  • Impact of Vis Major on Contracts
  • Managing Risks Related to Vis Major
  • Insurance and Vis Major
  • Global Perspectives on Vis Major
  • Conclusion

Understanding Vis Major

  • Vis Major, often referred to as an “act of God,” encompasses unforeseeable events that are beyond human control.
  • These events can include natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or other catastrophic occurrences.
  • In legal terms, vis major can serve as a defence against liability in cases where a party has not fulfilled a contractual obligation due to these extraordinary circumstances.
  • Understanding vis major is essential in various sectors such as insurance, law, and , where risks associated with uncontrollable events need to be mitigated.
  • Courts typically evaluate the impact of a vis major by assessing the foreseeability and preventability of the event in question.
  • Contractual agreements often include clauses that outline how major events will be handled, including potential exemptions or modifications to obligations.
  • While a vis major can excuse non-performance under a contract, it does not provide blanket protection and must meet specific criteria to be considered a valid defence.
  • Businesses and individuals must carefully consider the implications of vis-à-vis majors when drafting contracts or assessing responsibilities in the face of unexpected events.
  • By understanding the concept of vis major and its legal implications, stakeholders can better navigate situations where external forces impact their ability to fulfil obligations.

Defining Vis Major

Vis major, also known as force majeure, refers to unforeseen circumstances or events that are beyond the control of parties involved in a contract. These events are typically considered unavoidable and may include natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks, or other extraordinary occurrences. It is crucial to establish a clear definition of vis-à-vis within a contract to determine the rights and responsibilities of each party in the event of such unforeseen circumstances.

Key points in defining vis major include:

  • Unforeseeable Events: Vis major typically refers to situations where the parties involved could not have reasonably anticipated or prevented them.
  • Force Beyond Control: It involves forces that are beyond the control of the parties and make it impossible for them to fulfil their obligations under the contract.
  • Impact on Performance: Major events often hinder or delay the ability of parties to meet their contractual obligations.

When defining vis major within a contract, it is essential to specify the types of events that will be considered force majeure and outline the procedures that must be followed when such events occur. By clearly defining vis-à-vis, parties can mitigate risks and uncertainties related to unforeseen events that may impact the performance of the contract.

Vis major, also known as force majeure, is a legal concept that refers to extraordinary events or circumstances beyond the control of parties involved in a contract. These events are typically unforeseeable and unavoidable, making it impossible for parties to fulfil their obligations under the agreement. In legal terms, a vis major allows for the suspension or termination of contractual obligations without incurring liability for non-performance.

Characteristics of Vis Major

  • Unforeseeable Events: Vis major events are events that could not have been reasonably foreseen or anticipated at the time of contract formation.
  • External Influence: These events are external to the parties involved and are not within their control or influence.
  • Impossibility of Performance: Major events make it impossible for parties to fulfil their contractual obligations.
  • Temporary Suspension: Parties may be temporarily relieved from their obligations until the major event is resolved.

Examples of Major Events

  1. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods.
  2. Wars, riots, or acts of terrorism.
  3. Government actions such as expropriation or embargo.

Application of Vis Major in Contracts

Major clauses are often included in contracts to allocate risks in the event of unforeseen events. These clauses typically outline the procedure for invoking vis major, the consequences of invocation, and any notice requirements. When a major event occurs, parties may be excused from performance or may seek to renegotiate the terms of the contract.


Understanding the legal concept of vis major is important for parties entering into contracts to protect themselves from liability in case of unforeseen events. By including vis-à-vis clauses in contracts and following the legal principles surrounding vis-à-vis clauses, parties can navigate unexpected challenges and mitigate risks in their contractual relationships.

Examples of Vis Major

  • Vis Major can be invoked in cases of extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or earthquakes.
  • In situations where a pandemic or epidemic significantly impacts operations, Vis Major may apply.
  • War, terrorist attacks, civil unrest, or government actions like expropriation can also be considered major events.
  • Supply chain disruptions due to unforeseen events like strikes, political instability, or unexpected delays can lead to the application of Vis Major clauses.
  • Natural disasters like wildfires, volcanic eruptions, or tsunamis can qualify as major events.
  • Severe accidents or unforeseen incidents that cause widespread disruption and could not have been reasonably predicted may be considered under Vis Major.
  • When events beyond a party's control, such as acts of God, force majeure, or other unforeseeable circumstances, prevent the fulfilment of contractual obligations, Vis Major provisions come into play.

By understanding these examples of Vis Major events, individuals and organisations can better appreciate when such circumstances warrant the invocation of Vis Major clauses in contracts.

How Vis Major Works in Different Industries

  • In the construction industry, Vis Major can come into play when unforeseen events like natural disasters or political instability disrupt construction projects. Such events might exempt contractors from liability for delays or losses.
  • In the shipping and transportation industry, Vis Major may apply when unforeseen events like severe weather conditions or port closures lead to delays in shipments. Such events may release carriers from responsibility for losses or delays.
  • Vis Major can have a significant impact on the travel and tourism industry, particularly when calamities like pandemics, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters occur. Travel companies may be excused from fulfilling obligations or providing refunds under such circumstances.
  • In the financial industry, Vis Major can affect investments or contracts when events like economic crises or changes in regulations occur. Investors or financial institutions may be protected from losses or breaches of contract due to such events.
  • Within the agricultural sector, Vis Major can affect crop yields or production if natural disasters like droughts or floods occur. Farmers may be protected from fulfilling contractual obligations under such circumstances.
  • In the manufacturing industry, Vis Major can disrupt production processes due to events like labour strikes, supply chain disruptions, or power outages. Such events may excuse manufacturers from delays or flaws.

Understanding how Vis Major works in various industries is crucial for stakeholders to assess risks, manage contracts effectively, and safeguard their businesses from unforeseen events beyond their control.

Impact of Vis Major on Contracts

  • Vis Major can have a significant impact on contracts as it can render performance impossible or impracticable.
  • When a force majeure event occurs, parties may be excused from their contractual obligations or may be entitled to seek renegotiation or termination of the contract.
  • The effects of Vis Major on contracts vary depending on the specific terms and conditions outlined in the agreement.
  • Parties may need to review their contracts carefully to determine whether Vis Major clauses are included and the extent to which they cover unforeseen events.
  • The presence of Vis Major in a contract can provide a level of protection to parties in situations where performance becomes unfeasible due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control.
  • Businesses should be aware of the implications of Vis Major on their contractual obligations and should seek legal advice to understand their rights and options in such situations.
  • In some cases, invoking Vis Major may result in the suspension of contractual obligations until the force majeure event is resolved, preventing parties from being held liable for non-performance.
  • The impact of Vis Major on contracts underscores the importance of carefully drafting and reviewing contractual terms to account for unexpected events that may affect performance.

When dealing with risks related to vis-à-vis, organisations must first identify potential threats that could lead to unforeseen circumstances. This involves conducting thorough risk assessments and scenario planning to understand the possible outcomes of major events. It is crucial for businesses to have a comprehensive risk management strategy in place to mitigate the impact of major events.

  • Insurance Coverage: Organisations should assess their insurance policies to ensure they have adequate coverage for events classified as major. It is essential to understand the scope of coverage, exclusions, and limitations of insurance policies to determine the level of protection in case of major incidents.
  • Contingency Planning: Developing contingency plans is imperative to effectively manage the risks associated with a major. These plans should outline steps to be taken in case of emergencies, such as natural disasters, pandemics, or other significant events that can disrupt operations.
  • Supply Chain Risks: Organisations should evaluate the vulnerabilities in their supply chains that could be affected by major events. Establishing alternate suppliers, creating buffer stock, and diversifying sourcing locations can help minimise the impact of disruptions in the supply chain.
  • Legal Compliance: Businesses need to ensure they are compliant with legal requirements related to. Understanding contractual obligations, force majeure clauses, and potential liabilities can help organisations navigate legal challenges arising from major events.
  • Communication Strategy: Clear communication is essential during major events to keep stakeholders informed and manage expectations. Establishing communication protocols and channels in advance can facilitate smooth communication during times of crisis.
  • Continuous Monitoring: Regular monitoring of potential risks and early detection of warning signs can help organisations proactively address threats related to the major. Implementing monitoring mechanisms and staying informed about external factors can enhance risk management practices.

Insurance and Vis Major

  • Insurance policies typically include provisions for major events, acknowledging that they are outside the control of the insured party.
  • Insurance companies assess the risks involved in providing coverage for major events and base their premiums on the likelihood of such occurrences.
  • Policyholders need to understand the extent of coverage provided for major events in their insurance policies, including any exclusions or limitations.
  • In cases where major events lead to damages or losses, policyholders can file claims with their insurance companies to seek compensation based on the terms of their policies.
  • The relationship between insurance and viability is essential for individuals and businesses to protect themselves financially from unpredictable and catastrophic events beyond their control.
  • Insurance companies play a crucial role in helping individuals and businesses recover from major events by providing financial support to help them rebuild and recover.
  • It is essential for policyholders to review and update their insurance coverage regularly to ensure that they are adequately protected in the event of major occurrences.

Global Perspectives on Vis Major

  • Natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods are common examples of major force events worldwide.
  • Different countries have varying laws and regulations concerning force majeure clauses in contracts.
  • In some jurisdictions, force majeure events must be explicitly listed in contracts, while others allow for broader interpretations.
  • International treaties and conventions may impact the application of force majeure clauses across borders.
  • Companies operating globally must consider the cultural and legal differences in force majeure interpretations.
  • Political instability and civil unrest in a region can also trigger force majeure events, affecting businesses operating there.
  • Developing countries may have different perspectives on force majeure due to economic and social factors.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the global impact of force majeure events on businesses and supply chains.
  • Understanding how force majeure is viewed from a global perspective is essential for businesses with international operations.
  • Collaboration and communication across borders are crucial when navigating force majeure situations on a global scale.


  • Vis major, also known as an act of God, refers to unforeseeable circumstances beyond human control that can excuse a party from fulfilling a contract.
  • This legal concept is applied when events like natural disasters, wars, and government actions disrupt contractual obligations.
  • Understanding vis major is crucial for businesses to protect themselves from potential liabilities arising from situations outside their control.
  • By including force majeure clauses in contracts, parties can clearly define what events constitute vis major and how they will navigate such situations.
  • Courts carefully examine the specifics of each case to determine if a vis major can indeed excuse a party's performance under a contract.
  • Despite its importance, vis-à-vis should not be used as a loophole to avoid contractual responsibilities, as parties must demonstrate genuine efforts to fulfil their obligations despite unforeseen events.
  • Businesses should consult legal professionals to ensure their contracts adequately address the implications of a major event and provide clarity on how to proceed in the event of such an event.
  • In today's unpredictable world, understanding and preparing for the implications of a major can help businesses navigate challenging circumstances with legal clarity and integrity.


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