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Commercial Impracticability

15 January, 2016 - 09:33

This common-law concept of impracticability has been adopted by the UCC. 1 When performance cannot be undertaken except with extreme difficulty or at highly unreasonable expense, it might be excused on the theory ofcommercial impracticability. However, “impracticable” (the action is impossible) is not the same as “impractical” (the action would yield an insufficient return or would have little practical value). The courts allow a considerable degree of fluctuation in market prices, inflation, weather, and other economic and natural conditions before holding that an extraordinary circumstance has occurred. A manufacturer that based its selling price on last year’s costs for raw materials could not avoid its contracts by claiming that inflation within the historical range had made it difficult or unprofitable to meet its commitments. Examples of circumstances that could excuse might be severe limitations of supply due to war, embargo, or a natural disaster. Thus a shipowner who contracted with a purchaser to carry goods to a foreign port would be excused if an earthquake destroyed the harbor or if war broke out and the military authorities threatened to sink all vessels that entered the harbor. But if the shipowner had planned to steam through a canal that is subsequently closed when a hostile government seizes it, his duty is not discharged if another route is available, even if the route is longer and consequently more expensive.