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COVID-19 and Commercial Contracts: Is it Time to Modify?

The coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic will likely create hardship for parties attempting to perform under many types of commercial contracts. Significantly, contracts requiring travel and/or involving the provision of goods and services are likely to be substantially impaired or impacted.

What to Do Now?

Inflexibility and hard line approaches may lead to disputes and expensive litigation. Global pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 has not occurred in over a century. For the modern business world and the United States legal system, this is truly a case of first impression. In order to avoid uncertainty, communication with counterparts regarding modification of existing obligations, may be prudent and lead to reasonable, mutually acceptable adjustments to the parties original deal. 

Nevertheless, you should carefully review the material terms and conditions of your existing agreements to ensure you are informed as to your rights, obligations and likelihood of breach or timely performance.

Communicate and Modify

Now may be the best time to modify existing agreements. Following an honest assessment of each unique situation, parties are encouraged to cooperatively determine a path forward. Communicate with your counterparts and willingly work towards a mutually beneficial arrangement. Reasonable business partners will understand that the current pandemic was likely not within the contemplation of the parties when they entered into their agreement. Any such modification must be reduced to writing, signed by both parties and incorporated into the original contract.  

Common terms to modify:

  • Contract duration
  • The goods/services involved in the contract
    • Adding or subtracting goods/services covered in the contract
  • The payment terms
  • The delivery terms

Before negotiating modification, consider the following:

  • Identify changes you feel are necessary and appropriate
  • Note any contract provisions that seem unfair or unnecessary
  • Note the date, time, and location when you chose to make modifications to the contract
  • Determine the justification for modification (i.e. workforce, government directives, supplies, shipping restraints, etc… simply citing COVID-19 likely not enough)
  • Try to predict how the changes might affect all parties' contract rights

In the event a party to a contract alleges it cannot perform as a result of COVID-19, the contract may provide guidance concerning legal rights and obligations. Most commercial contracts address the parties’ rights in the event of situations occurring outside of the control of either party. Most commonly, parties may be forced to interpret and/or rely on a ‘force majeure’ clause. Generally, a ‘force majeure’ clause relieves one party from performing a contractual obligation under certain circumstances that would make performance impractical, impossible, or even illegal. Pandemic may be a defined term, but more likely, the ‘force majeure’ language will not be so specific.  However, parties should be careful of claiming a force majeure event prior to experiencing an actual delay or other impact.

The Contract Matters

The extent to which COVID-19 excuses or extends contractual obligation(s) is a fact-specific determination that will depend on the nature of the obligations and the specific language of the contract. More specifically, in the context of COVID-19, parties will want to take the following steps:

  • Read the contract;
    • Determine the extent to which the contract provides for suspension or termination of performance;
    • Identify key provisions of contracts that may be affected by COVID-19 (e.g., representations/warranties, covenants, delay rights, termination rights, conditions, ‘force majeure’ clauses);
    • Identify notice requirements that have been or may be triggered;
  • Determine the extent to which COVID-19 prevented the party asserting an inability to perform;
    • Consider whether there are alternative means to perform contractual obligations or proactive steps that can be taken anticipating the potential future effects;
  • Determine whether the party asserting COVID-19 as a justification not to perform had the ability to mitigate its effect and the ability to perform.
  • Analyze the potential consequences of a material breach and/or default;
  • Manage communications with your counterparts, while coordinating internally to ensure a consistent approach; and
  • Regularly review and update relevant regulations (e.g., local, state, national directives on health and safety) in real time to determine whether they require steps or decisions that may affect contractual commitments.

In these uncertain times, Brennan Manna Diamond is here to provide clarity and comfort. Feel free to reach out to a BMD professional for guidance as you work through your analysis.

El Contrato Escrito: La Herramienta Predilecta

No existe mejor herramienta a una disputa contractual que un documento firmado por las partes en el cual se expongan las obligaciones y acuerdos entre éstas.

New State Budget Institutes Licensure Requirement for Ohio’s Hospitals

On July 1, 2021, Governor Mike DeWine signed Ohio’s final budget codified at Ohio Revised Code 3722.01 et seq., which includes a new licensing requirement for Ohio’s hospitals. For years, Ohio was the only state in the country that did not license its hospitals. This approach will now be replaced with new, detailed requirements that will require careful review and compliance. Here are some of the highlights concerning these new changes:

Healthcare Provisions in the Ohio FY 22-23 Budget

Governor Mike DeWine signed Ohio’s Fiscal Year 2022-2023 budget bill (HB 110) into law on July 1, 2021. At almost 1,000 pages and 74.1 billion dollars, the budget lays out the State’s spending for the next two years. Below are a few highlighted provisions from the budget that will be important for the healthcare industry in Ohio

Interim Final Rule for Surprise Billing

In an effort to implement the new bipartisan No Surprises Act, on July 1, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the Departments of Labor and Treasury, issued an interim final rule to safeguard patients against unforeseen medical bills arising from out-of-network care.

President Biden Seeks to Limit Non-Compete Agreements

Today, President Biden announced he would issue an Executive Order that calls on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to adopt rules to curtail worker non-compete agreements. Interestingly, a week ago, the FTC approved changes to its Rules of Practice to modernize and expedite the way it issues Trade Regulation Rules. If you have followed our alerts, we predicted the elimination of non-competes would probably happen. In 2016, then-Vice President Biden was a vocal opponent against non-compete agreements. He led the Obama administration’s initiative seeking to limit or eliminate non-compete agreements. In his presidential campaign, Biden promised to “work with Congress to eliminate all non-compete agreements, except the very few that are absolutely necessary to protect a narrowly defined category of trade secrets . . ..”