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Coronavirus – Legal consequences of cancellations of events – Germany

  • Germany
  • Commercial and IT
  • Coronavirus - Contractual issues


1.1 Which Corona related administrative orders must be differentiated in Germany and what are their effects?

The local health departments are, on a case-by-case basis, entitled to prohibit the happening of any kind of event that includes a significant amount of people or impose legal requirements for its conduct. Those measures are legally binding and may involve penal consequences in case of a breach.

The Robert Koch institution issues general recommendations concerning major events and related safety measures. Those recommendations do not have binding effect, but may still play a role in the assessment of legal consequences.

1.2 Are event organizers allowed to cancel an event without a binding administrative order to do so?

Without administrative prohibition by a health department, the organizer is legally able to conduct the event. In some cases though, the department might have imposed legal requirements for the conduct, the fulfilment of which involves an unreasonable effort and therefore make the conduct of the event technically impossible. The cancellation of the event then may be legally possible.

1.3 Does the above apply, if the underlying contract includes a Force Majeure clause?

The effect of a Force Majeure clause depends on its specific wording, for example if epidemics are included within its scope and what requirements (impossibility, inadvisability, impracticability of conduct etc.) are necessary. It is important to note, that the above mentioned not binding recommendations of the Robert Koch institution may play a role in assessing the applicability.  

1.4 Scenario A: Which legal consequences arise in case of cancellation without administrative prohibition?

The organizer’s obligation to indemnify visitors or participants depends on whether the cancellation lies within his culpability. In case of a voluntary cancellation it is not yet certain if this requirement is fulfilled. However, we assume that as soon as the Robert Koch institution has issued a recommendation to cancel the type of event concerned, no such claims arise.

The organizer might remain obligated to conduct the event at a later date.

In case of cancellation or postponing of the event, visitors and participants may have a right of withdrawal from the contract. They will then be entitled to receiving back any payments they may have already made in respect of the concerned event.

1.5 Scenario B: Which legal consequence arise in case of an administrative prohibition of the event?

In this case, the organizer will not be legally to able to conduct the event. As a result, visitors and participants may have a right to receive back any advance payments. Indemnification and damage claims against the organizer do not exist.

1.6 Scenario C: Which legal consequences arise in case of conduct requirements imposed by the health department?

If the organizer decides to conduct the event under the imposed conditions, and therefore has to carry increased costs or expenses, it does not hold an indemnification claim against the department. It might although have the right to request an amendment of the contractual agreements between itself and the various participants regarding a share of the additional costs.

In case the imposed requirements exceed a reasonable or practicable extend and the organizer therefore cancels the event, indemnification claims against the organiser again depend on his culpability or negligence that led to his inability to comply with the requirements. In many cases, however, no culpability or negligence can be assumed, as the reasons will mostly lie beyond reach of the organizer.

Apart from that, visitors and participants will remain entitled to withdraw from their contracts and receive back any advance payments.

1.7 Is the conduct of an event connected to any risks for the organizer?

In case the organizer decides to conduct the event, reasonable measures that reduce the chance of visitors and participants being infected during their participation should be taken. This will avoid the organisers culpability and therefore damage claims it would face due to infections that occur during the event. For actions to be taken, organizers may follow the guidelines that the Robert Koch institution provides for this case.