Storm in a tea-cup?

Posted July 29th, 2009 by Rachel

I spotted an article the other day on Out-Law about swine flue possibly becoming a “force majeure” and advising that companies should check their contracts…

Companies should dig out their major contracts and read the clauses on ‘force majeure’ to prepare for arguments that a swine flu pandemic could render contracts meaningless, a legal expert has said.

Commercial contracts carry ‘force majeure’ clauses which say that major unforseeable events outside of either party’s control can relieve companies of their contractual obligations.

Technology law expert David McIlwaine of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that if swine flu becomes a major problem in the UK then companies might start to try to invoke force majeure clauses.

“If suddenly half your workforce is out sick and you are a major IT services company and obliged to deliver certain service levels then you might invoke the clause,” he said. “It becomes even more difficult because probably your customer is operating with staff working from home.”

McIlwaine said that there are no examples of companies going to court to enforce force majeure clauses in relation to plagues or illnesses, but that most cases are settled out of court.

The swine flue illness is already reported to be disrupting business. A Google call centre in Hyderaba in India was shut down last week and 100 workers sent home after one tested positive for the illness.

Personally I think the media (particularly the newspapers – the TV broadcasters seem to be slightly more responsible) are making a mountain out of a mole hill – huge headlines every time someone dies, but they don’t point out another 2000 people have recovered with no problems. Last I heard the total was up to 30 here in the UK, but more people die in a normal seasonal flu outbreak than have died so far (but I guess that doesn’t matter to the media because it’s mainly elderly people). The BBC also keep stressing that you shouldn’t worry because it’s people with underlying health conditions who are most at risk (no advice for those of us with underlying health conditions though), so that’s okay then… *sigh*

As usual everyone goes into panic mode and the slightest sniffle they’re convinced they’ve got it. We’ve already had four people at work who’ve apparently had it (including one who apparently started with it on Sunday but yet came back today looking decidedly perky *rolls eyes*). The supposed victims of swine flu they keep rolling out on the news all seem to be looking decidedly perky for someone who’s supposed to have flu. With ‘normal’ flu, if you have real flu, not just a bad cold (which many people seem to think is ‘flu’) you feel that ill you can hardly move!

The symptoms the government are listing are so vague that most people who are feeling unwell could be classed as having it. Based on the list of symptoms, with “headache”, “weakness and fatigue” and “aching muscles and joints” I could say I’d got it, but they’re symptoms I have most days, and if I decided I’d got flu every time I had those symptoms I’d never work!

The fact that they’re not actually testing for it means no-one’s got any real idea how many people have got it or had it, and I’d say the real number’s a hell of a lot lower than the figures they’re reporting.

This week at work those alcohol gel hand wash dispensers have appeared near all the doors and we’re supposed to use them to clean our hands every time we go out or come in. Hmmmm….like, yep, we’ve got absolutely no work to do and we’ve got time to go off and wash our hands every time we leave the office… *sigh*

Maybe, if as predicted, the second wave of the pandemic (if it comes) will be in a worse form, but at the moment I think it’s all something of an over-reaction. With previous pandemics like the flu outbreaks in the early 20th century there wasn’t anything like the medical care we have these days, or any sort of vaccines (nor did people fly around the world spreading these diseases), and many people lived in none too sanitary conditions anyway and weren’t as well nourished as we are nowadays, so were often more succeptable to all sorts of nasty bugs, and it was common for common conditions we class as “minor” conditions these days to kill people. We have better healthcare, on the whole our living conditions are a lot better these days, and we have fewer complications when we do get ill than our ancestors did. In the 1920s/1930s three of my grandparents’ siblings died from what are now “minor” conditions. The number of people affected by a condition these days isn’t necessarily an indication of the “seriousness” of it, at least here in the ‘west’ where living and healthcare standards are higher.

Anyway, in the meantime I had one of those informational emails this morning – it said…”If you get an email saying you can catch swine flu from tinned pork, just delete it because it’s spam” :)


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