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疫情影响合同履行,可否援引不可抗力免责?

    日期:2020-02-04     作者:张政(公司与商事业务研究委员会、北京观韬中茂(上海)律师事务所)、袁雅南(上海市律师协会一带一路业务研究委员会、北京观韬中茂(上海)律师事务所)

       新型冠状病毒肺炎疫情(“疫情”)爆发后,笔者在春节假期内连续接到多起法律咨询,主要内容为:合同义务履行受到疫情影响的情况下,当事人可否援引不可抗力要求免责?

After the outbreak of the New Coronavirus Pneumonia Epidemic(“Epidemic”), we received several legal consultations during the Spring Festival holidays: in the event that the performance of contract is affected by the Epidemic, can the contracting party be relieved of liability in reliance on force majeure?

鉴于该等问题具有一定共性,我们特将法律意见整理为短文一篇,谨供参考。

Given of the generality of the questions, we hereby summarize our legal opnions in this article for reference.

 

一、          何为“不可抗力”

What is Force Majeure

我国关于 “不可抗力”的法律规定,主要见于《民法总则》、《民法通则》、《合同法》:

Legal provisions for “force majeure” are mainly provided in General Provisions of the Civil LawGeneral Principles of Civil Law, and Contract Law:

名称

Name

法条

No. of Article

正文

Provisions

民法总则

General Provisions of the Civil Law

第一百八十条

Article 180

因不可抗力不能履行民事义务的,不承担民事责任。法律另有规定的,依照其规定。

If a party is unable to perform the civil obligation due to force majeure, the party shall not bear the civil liability. If the law provides otherwise, such provisions shall prevail.

不可抗力是指不能预见、不能避免且不能克服的客观情况。

“Force majeure” means unforeseeable, unavoidable and insurmountable objective conditions.

民法通则

General Principles of Civil Law

第一百零七条

Article 107

因不可抗力不能履行合同或者造成他人损害的,不承担民事责任,法律另有规定的除外。

Civil liability shall not be borne for failure to perform a contract or damage to a third party if it is caused by force majeure, except as otherwise provided by law.

第一百五十三条

Article 153

本法所称的 “不可抗力,是指不能预见、不能避免并不能克服的客观情况。

For the purpose of this Law, “force majeure” means unforeseeable, unavoidable and insurmountable objective conditions.

合同法

Contract Law

第九十四条

Article 94

有下列情形之一的,当事人可以解除合同:(一)因不可抗力致使不能实现合同目的;

The parties may dissolve the contract under any of the following circumstances:

(1) the aim of the contract cannot be attained because of force majeure;

第一百一十七条

Article 117

因不可抗力不能履行合同的,根据不可抗力的影响,部分或者全部免除责任,但法律另有规定的除外。当事人迟延履行后发生不可抗力的,不能免除责任。 本法所称不可抗力,是指不能预见、不能避免并不能克服的客观情况。

If a contract cannot be fulfilled due to force majeure, the obligations may be exempted in whole or in part depending on the impact of the force majeure, unless laws provide otherwise. If the force majeure occurs after a delayed fulfillment, the obligations of the party concerned may not be exempted.

Force majeure as used herein means objective situations which cannot be foreseen, avoided or overcome.

第一百一十八条

Article 118

当事人一方因不可抗力不能履行合同的,应当及时通知对方,以减轻可能给对方造成的损失,并应当在合理期限内提供证明。

Either party that is unable to fulfill the contract due to force majeure shall notify the other party in time in order to reduce losses possibly inflicted to the other party, and shall provide evidence thereof within a reasonable period of time.

归纳可知:

To conclude:

1.   从不可抗力的构成要件来看,应同时满足:① 主观上不能预见;② 客观上不能避免、不能克服;

From the perspective of constitutive elements, a force majeure event shall be unforeseeable subjectively, and  unavoidable and insurmountable objectively; 

2.   从不可抗力的发生时间来看,应在当事人出现迟延履行的情形之前;

From the perspective occurring time, a force majeure event shall happen before late performance of contract by the affected party;

3.   从不可抗力的法律效力来看,属法定免责事由,不能约定排除,即使合同无约定仍可依法主张;

From the perspective of legal effect, force majeure is statutory circumstance under which liabilities can be exempted and such exemption cannot be excluded by agreement. A party affected by force majeure can be relieved of liabilities incurred thereby even if the contract is silent on this;

4.   从不可抗力的法律后果来看,根据受不可抗力影响的程度不同,受影响方既可能全部免责,也可能仅部分免责,法律另有规定的除外[1]

From the perspective of legal consequence, the party affected by the force majeure can be relieved of all or part of the liabilities depending on the influence of the force majeure, unless the law provides otherwise.[1]

 

二、          本次疫情是否构成不可抗力

Is This Epidemic Outbreak a Force Majeure?

笔者认为:本次疫情在个案中是否构成不可抗力,需结合个案情况,逐一分析其是否具备不可抗力的主客观构成要件,不能一概而论。而“非典”相关判例及《最高人民法院关于在防治传染性非典型肺炎期间依法做好人民法院相关审判、执行工作的通知》[2](已废止)可作参考。

We maintain that it shall be decided on a case-by-case basis whether the Epidemic is a force majerure, after taking into consideration each specific case and analyzing both the subjective and objective elements of force majeure. The judicial precedents relating to SARS and Notice of the Supreme People’s Court on Doing Good Job of Trial and Enforcement by the People’s Court During SARS[2] (Repealed) can be used as reference.

根据相关法律规定及“非典”相关判例体现的裁判精神,笔者归纳本次疫情是否构成不可抗力的判断标准如下:

In accordance with the applicable laws and regulations, and the spirit in the judicial precedents relating to SARS, we conclude the following criteria when deciding if the the Epidemic is a force majeure:

构成要件

Constitutive

Elements

判断依据

Basis

结论

Conclusion

主观要件:不可预见

Subjective Element: unforeseeable

本次疫情属于突发公共卫生事件,在本次疫情发生前,依善意一般人(即一般公众)的预见能力,无法预见其发生及可能造成的合同履行困难。因此,本次疫情具备不可抗力所要求的不可预见性。

The Epidemic is a public health emergency. Before the Epidemic, it was impossible for a bona fide third party (i.e. general publics) to foresee its occurrence and the potential difficulties that it caused to contract performance. Therefore, the Epidemic has met the requirement of unforeseeability as required by force majeure.

要件满足

The Epidmic is unforeseeable

客观要件:

不能避免、不能克服

Objective Element: unavoidable and insurmountable

1、本次疫情为全国性特别重大突发公共卫生事件[3],其发生和扩散不以一方当事人的意志为转移,无论个案中当事人自身是否已尽合理注意,均不能避免疫情出现。

The Epidemic is a nationwide major public health emergency3. Its occurrence and spread will not be impacted by the will of any party. Regardless of reasonable care taken by a party in any specific case, the Epidemic is unavoidable.

2、在此基础上,该疫情是否在个案中对合同履行产生不能避免、不能克服的影响,还应结合:合同具体内容、履行方式、履行期限,及所在地域的政府行为(包括但不限于当地政府部门为防控疫情,而采取的延长假期、封锁交通、限制人口流动、取消大型活动、要求相关企业暂停或限制其主要经营活动等措施),及当事人的具体情况(例如在具有较强人身依附性和不可替代性的合同中,当事人是否因疫情被隔离或住院而不能如期履行合同义务等)等因素,从而进一步考量:疫情是否与合同不能履行或延期履行具有直接因果关系?如有充分证据证明存在直接因果关系,则不可抗力应为成立。

On this basis, the following factors shall also be taken into consideration when deciding whether the Epidemic has an unavoidable and insurmountable effect on the performance of the contract in individual cases:  the specific content of the contract, the method of performance, the period of performance, and the government’s actions in the region (including but not limited to the extension of holidays, traffic blockades, restrictions on population movements, ban of large-scale activities, suspension or restriction of main business activities of the enterprises, etc.) for the purpose of preventing and controlling the Epidemic, and  the specific conditions of the parties (for example, in case the performance of a contract highly depends on the contracting party and the contracting party is irreplaceable, is the contracting party unable to perform the contract as it is quarantined or hospitalized due to the Epidemic). Then it shall be further considered if the Epidemic has a direct causal relationship with the non-performance or late performance of the contract. If there is sufficient evidence that there is direct causal relationship, then there is a force majeure.

具体分析

It shall be analyzed case by case

    需进一步说明的是:

It shall be further illustrated that:

1. 不宜认定不可抗力的情形

Circumstances that should not be deemed as force majeure:   

a.      本次疫情的出现,未对个案中合同义务的履行造成实质影响及合同目的落空;

The occurrence of the Epidemic has not materially affected the performance of the contractual obligations and the purpose of the contract is not frustrated;

b.     合同订立于疫情发生之后,或合同在疫情发生之前已处于迟延履行状态。

The contract is concluded after the Epidemic, or the performance of the contract has been delayed before the Epidemic.

2.  认定不可抗力全部免责

Force majeure ≠ Exemptions of all liabilities

即便本次疫情在个案中构成不可抗力,其法律后果也非部分当事人理解的只要构成不可抗力,就一概解除合同、全部免责

Even if the Epidemic constitutes force majeure in a specific case, the legal consequence is not what understood by some parties - “As long as there is a force majeure, all the contracts will be terminated and all liabilities will be relieved.”

实际上,根据相关法律规定及裁判案例,不可抗力可能产生的法律后果包括:合同的变更或解除,延期履行、部分履行与全部不履行。不同的法律后果,主要取决于不可抗力对个案合同履行所产生的不同影响程度,包括:合同全部不能履行、合同部分不能履行或合同迟延履行。

In fact, according to the relevant legal regulations and judicial precedents, the possible legal consequences of force majeure include modification or termination of the contract, postponement of performance, and partial or failure of performance. The legal consequences mainly depend on the different degrees of influence on performance of the contracts by force majeure, including the non-performance of the entire contract, partial non-performance of the contract, or delayed performance of the contract.

因此,当事人基于不可抗力成立而提出的要求,应当与其履行合同所受影响程度相符。例如,某当事人因疫情影响而部分不能履行合同,但要求解除合同及全部免责的,则法院将有较大可能基于促成交易、降低交易成本及诚实信用原则等考虑不予支持该等要求。

Therefore, the request made by the contracting party shall be consistent with the degree of influence on the performance of contract. For example, if a contracting party is unable to perform part of the contract due to the Epidemic, but requires that the entire contract be terminated and all liabilities be exempted, it is very likely that the court will not uphold such requirements based on considerations such as facilitating transactions, reducing transaction costs, and the principles of good faith.

3. 债务人应注意的各项义务

Obligations that the debtor should pay attention to

a.      及时通知及举证义务

Obligation of timely notification and burden of proof

根据《合同法》第一百一十八条之规定,及时通知及举证义务是援引不可抗力的债务人必须履行之法定义务。结合非典相关判例,法院可采信的证据包括但不限于政府命令、住院证明、诊断病例、出院小结、隔离证明等。

According to Article 118 of the Contract Law, it is the statutory obligation of the debtor who intends to rely on force majeure to fulfill the obligation of timely notification and burden of proof. With reference to the relevant precedents of SARS, the evidence admissible by the court includes, but is not limited to, government orders, hospitalization certificates, diagnosed cases, discharge summary, and quarantine certificates.

b.     避免损失扩大义务

Obligation to avoid expansion of loss

基于诚实信用原则,不可抗力事件发生时,债务人负有采取积极措施尽量减少或避免损失扩大的义务。如债务人怠于履行该等义务而致损失扩大,则债务人亦应根据其过错程度承担相应责任。

Based on the principle of good faith, when a force majeure event occurs, the debtor is obliged to take active measures to minimize or avoid the expansion of losses. If the debtor’s failure to perform aforesaid obligations results in an increase of losses, the debtor should also bear corresponding liabilities based on the extent of its fault.

 

三、          延伸思考:情势变更的选择适用

Other Thoughts: Application of Change of Circumstances

在此前关于“非典”的相关判例及法官关于免责制度的学术观点中,亦有部分意见采纳或倾向于适用《最高人民法院关于适用<中华人民共和国合同法>若干问题的解释(二)》第二十六条之规定(即“情势变更”),而非“不可抗力”[4]

In the previous relevant precedents relating to SARS and the academic opinions of judges on the exemption of liabilities, some people adopted or tended to apply Article 26 of the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues Concerning Application of the “Contract Law of the People’s Republic of China” (2) (i.e. change of circumstances) instead of force majeure[4].

《最高人民法院关于适用<中华人民共和国合同法>若干问题的解释(二)》

第二十六条 合同成立以后客观情况发生了当事人在订立合同时无法预见的、非不可抗力造成的不属于商业风险的重大变化,继续履行合同对于一方当事人明显不公平或者不能实现合同目的,当事人请求人民法院变更或者解除合同的,人民法院应当根据公平原则,并结合案件的实际情况确定是否变更或者解除。

Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues Concerning Application of the “Contract Law of the People’s Republic of China” (2)

Article 26 Where any significant change in the objective environment has taken place after the formation of a contract which could not have been foreseen by the relevant parties at the time of entering into the contract, and does not belong to any commercial risk occasioned by any force majeure cause, rendering the continual performance of the contract manifestly unfair to the relevant party or rendering it impossible to realize the goal of the contract, the People’s Court shall confirm whether the contract shall be varied or dissolved in accordance with the principle of justice taking into account the actual circumstance, where a relevant party petitions a People’s Court to vary or dissolve the contract.

针对本次疫情的影响,法律工作者在结合个案拟定免责方案和应对策略时,特别是在个案中证据不足以证明疫情对于合同的履行产生了“不可克服”的影响之时,或可将情势变更作为一条“备选思路”。因为情势变更也属于不可预见、不能避免的情形,但在仅导致合同的履行艰难或不必要,即按照合同履行是可能的,只是会造成双方利益关系的严重失衡、对于一方当事人明显不公平之时,亦可考虑适用。

In terms of the impact of this Epidemic, legal workers may use change of circumstances as an alternative when making liability exemption plan and response strategy based on specific cases, especially when there is no evidence to prove that the Epidemic has “insurmountable” impact on the performance of the contract. As change of circumstances is also an unforeseeable and unavoidable situation, it can be applicable where it only causes the performance of contract to be difficult or unnecessary; in other words, it is possible to perform the contract, but such performance will cause a serious imbalance between the interests of the two parties and is obviously unfair to one party.

最后,限于篇幅,本文在此简要摘录不可抗力与情势变更区别,希望对读者针对个案进行不可抗力与情势变更的选择适用有所帮助[5]

Due to space limitations, in this article we briefly summarizes the differences between force majeure and change of circumstances6, and we hope it can help the reader choose the application of force majeure or change of circumstances in specific cases[5]:

维度

Perspective

不可抗力

Force Majeure

情势变更

Change of Circumstances

权利性质

Nature of the Right

解除权为形成权

Right of termination is a right of formation

解除权为请求权

Right of termination is a right to claim

权利的启动

Initiation of the Right

法院可依职权适用

The court can apply according to its functions and powers

当事人须主张

It shall be initiated by the contracting party

适用范围

Scope of Application

金钱之债一般不适用

Generally not apply to request for monetary debt

金钱之债不适用

May not apply to request for monetary debt

既可免除违约责任,又可免除侵权责任

Both liabilities for breach and tort can be relieved

主要适用于合同关系,不能用于侵权责任的免除

Mainly apply to contract; not applicable to relief of tort liability

法律责任

Legal Responsibilities

主要在于免除或减轻当事人的责任

Mainly to relieve or alleviate the liabilities of the contracting party

主要解决当事人权益得失的公平问题

Mainly to resolve the problem of unbalanced interests between the parties

 

 


[1] 例如:《合同法》第311 不可抗力情况下承运人的赔偿责任、第314 不可抗力导致货物灭失的运费处理等。

[1]  For example, carrier’s liability for loss in case of force majeure in Article 311 of the Contract Laws, the allocation of freight in case of loss of products caused by force majeure in Article 314 of the Contract Law.

[2] 《最高人民法院关于在防治传染性非典型肺炎期间依法做好人民法院相关审判、执行工作的通知》(注:该文件现已废止)第三条第三款  由于非典疫情原因,按原合同履行对一方当事人的权益有重大影响的合同纠纷案件,可以根据具体情况,适用公平原则处理。因政府及有关部门为防治非典疫情而采取行政措施直接导致合同不能履行,或者由于非典疫情的影响致使合同当事人根本不能履行而引起的纠纷,按照《中华人民共和国合同法》第一百一十七条和第一百一十八条的规定妥善处理。

[2]  Notice of the Supreme People’s Court on Doing Good Job of Trial and Enforcement by the People’s Court During SARS (Repealed) Article 3 (3): Contractual disputes where performance in accordance with the originacontract will have a significant impact on the rights and interests of one party due to SARS can be resolved on the basis of fairness according to the specific circumstances. If a contract cannot be performed because of administrative measures taken by the government and relevant departments to prevent SARS, or the contracting party cannot perform the contract due to SARS, the disputes arising therefrom shall be properly resolved in accordance with Articles 117 and 118 of Contract Law of the People's Republic of China.

[3] 截至20200130日,大陆31省(自治区、直辖市)均已启动重大突发公共卫生事件一级响应。

[3] By January 30, 2020, first-level response to major public health emergencies had been lauched by all 31 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government) in the mainland.

 [4] 例一:(2018)鲁06民终268号,例二:《不可抗力的构成要件与判断标准》,郭扬辉,中国法院网,https://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2014/01/id/1172505.shtml

 [4] Example #1: (2018) Lu 06 Minzhong No. 268 ; Example 2 Elements of Force Majeurce and its judgment standard, Guo Yanghui, China Court Website https://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2014/01/id/1172505.shtml


 [5]最高人民法院《关于适用<中华人民共和国合同法>若干问题的解释()》之情势变更问题的理解与适用,曹守晔

 [5]Understanding and Application of Change of Circumstances in Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues Concerning Application of the “Contract Law of the People's Republic of China” (2) , Cao Shouye




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