Thoughtful Contracts Can Protect Against Zika Damages

Zika, meetingss
Zika is a summer mosquito and does not survive in the winter.

Stefany Brown of Stefany Brown Event Management faced the Zika threat head on last May when she had to reschedule a 2,000-person event for a client in San Salvador, Brazil.

“In our case, Zika did not fall under force majeure. We ended up staying with our original resort and moving the meeting to September, which is the end of winter there. One thing people don’t realize is that Zika is very seasonal in the tropics. It’s a summer mosquito and doesn’t survive in the winter.”

As a precaution, she traveled to the venue ahead of time with some of the members of Ministry of Health to make sure there was no standing water. The Ministry, the Municipality of Bahia and the resort all went above and beyond to assist her. “In the end,” she says, “it all worked out fine.”

Other planners with already signed contracts have been forced to relocate their meetings altogether at a steep penalty. But those considering future meetings in tropical destinations can take steps to protect themselves. “Force majeure provisions are considered typical boilerplate, and therein lies their danger,” explains Jonathan B. Morton, litigation partner at K&L Gates in Miami. “Without a thoughtful analysis of the relevant risks and the tailoring of that boilerplate language to match those relevant risks, contracting parties run the risk that their force majeure provisions will fail to address the specific risks that are relevant to Zika.”

Morton suggests that planners consider including “epidemics and quarantine, which are typically not included in boilerplate contracts, as force majeure events and then defining the meaning of those terms.” Also, depending on the nature of the contract, he says, “the parties may decide that having an area declared by the CDC as an active local transmission zone is sufficient to excuse performance.” When a hotel wishes to shift the risk to the meeting planner, an alternative is for the hotel operator and event planner agree to share this risk.

For more information on Zika, contact the World Health Organization and the CDC.

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Barbara Scofidio is editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In 25 years of covering the industry, her articles have spanned topics ranging from social media to strategic meetings management. She is currently the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee and was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of Site, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. A familiar face at industry events, Barbara often leads panel discussions or speaks on topics close to her heart, such as green meetings or how the industry can help combat human trafficking. She is also on the board of ECPAT USA, the human trafficking organization. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.