Client Alerts, News Articles & Blog Posts

Everything you need to know about BMD and the industry.

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.

We are Working in a Virtual, Video-Conferencing World – But What About Wiretapping?

Businesses and other organizations often have a need or desire to record telephone conversations related to their business interests and customer dealings; however, this practice is not always permissible as federal and state laws vary on this issue. Knowing and understanding your jurisdiction’s rules and regulations on this practice is essential to remaining in compliance with the law.

President Trump Signs Executive Orders that Enable Access to Affordable Meds

On Friday, July 24, 2020, President Trump signed four Executive Orders concerning prescription drug pricing which collectively direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take following actions: 1. Increase Patient Access to Insulin and Injectable Epinephrine 2. Facilitate the Importation of Certain Prescription Drugs 3. Remove the Anti-Kickback Safe Harbor Protection for Prescription Rebates 4. Implement the “Most Favored Nation” Order to Lower Medicare Part B Drug Cost

Guidance for Employers Receiving HHS Funding During COVID-19 on Civil Rights Protections

On July 20, 2020, HHS OCR issued guidance to help employers receiving federal financial assistance understand their requirements to comply with applicable federal civil rights laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in HHS-funded programs during COVID-19; specifically, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”). Title VI states that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Ohio Businesses Required to Post Exceptions to State-wide Mask Mandate at all Entrances

On July 22, 2020, in conjunction with the state-wide mask mandate instituted by Governor Mike DeWine, Lance D. Himes, Interim Director of the Ohio Department of Health, issued an order requiring Ohio businesses to post any permitted exceptions they provide to customers, patrons, visitors, contractors, vendors and similar individuals to use facial coverings at all business entrances.

ODM and OhioMHAS Continue to Expand Telehealth

On July 17, 2020, Governor DeWine signed Executive Order 2020-29D, which allowed the Ohio Department of Medicaid (“ODM”) to immediately rescind old provisions and file a new rule (5160-1-18) and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (“OhioMHAS”) to amend their current rule (5122-29-31), both expanding telehealth and introducing even more flexibility into Ohio’s healthcare system.