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A recent decision by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has shaken up construction contracts. While companies could claim “force majeure” to exempt themselves from contractual obligations during much of the pandemic, this decision challenges ongoing validity of those claims.
The decision was based on the Army Corps of Engineers deeming a bid from Boulder, Colorado–based American Mine Services (AMS) as nonresponsive because it included a COVID-19 force majeure clause. In reviewing the Corps’ decision, GAO—referencing the Federal Acquisition Regulation—found that “epidemics” and “quarantine restrictions” were already included in the contract between the Corps and AMS. Although AMS claimed that “COVID-19 is considered a force majeure event along with any other similar disease, epidemic or pandemic event,” the GAO concluded that this interpretation limited the rights of the government too much.

Going forward, this precedent likely will be cited in construction contracts in order to exclude challenges resulting from COVID-19 from force majeure clauses due to those clauses pertaining to “unforeseeable” events. This ruling could also affect companies facing supply-chain, materials and other challenges.


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