The federal government currently prohibits public and private events with more than 100 people. Events with less than 100 people may be held if specific prevention measures are taken. These measures imposed by the Federal Council mainly concern sporting and cultural events and threaten the existence of those affected.
Who is liable if an event is cancelled because of coronavirus? Contractual regulations take precedence over legal regulations. In this respect, the contracts (incl. general terms and conditions) between the organizer and the supplier/participant are to be consulted first and foremost, which often contain regulations regarding the cancellation or postponement of an event. However, if the contracts do not contain such provisions, it must be checked whether the contract contains a special provision for the case of force majeure, a so-called force majeure clause.
A case of force majeure is deemed to exist if the incidents are beyond the control of one party and cannot be averted even with the utmost care. In the case of the coronavirus, there is a strong case of force majeure if the event has to be cancelled due to official orders (which is currently the case for events with 100 people). If such a clause is contractually agreed upon, this can lead to the termination of the contract or to the suspension of contractual obligations. On the other hand, if the event is cancelled voluntarily by the organizer, there is essentially no case of force majeure and a force majeure clause is not applicable. However, a force majeure clause must always be interpreted on a case by case basis.
If no contractual regulation has been agreed upon, the law applies in a subsidiary manner. Here the question is simpler if the authorities have issued a ban/quarantine obligation – and more difficult if the organizer cancels the event voluntarily, for the high protection of health.
If the event has to be cancelled due to an official ban, this is a case of subsequent frustration in the sense of Art. 119 OR. In the case of bilateral contracts, the party liable for payment in kind (i.e. the organizer) bears the risk. The law therefore provides that the organizer must reimburse the service already received (e.g. ticket revenue). If a contractual partner has already rendered his services (e.g. delivery of food or construction of a stage), the organizer has to pay for these services. Exceptions apply again for special contractual agreements.
If the event is cancelled voluntarily for the sake of a high level of health protection (if there are less than 100 people), the fulfillment of the contract is not in fact impossible. The organizer hereby risks to have to pay for further damages.
This overview is intended to help with an initial orientation. It odes not replace a more precise clarification for each individual case.