Supreme Court Opinions on Civil Cases Involving COVID 19 Epidemic In accordance with the Law (I)
In order to implement the spirit of the CCP Central Committee's meeting on the overall promotion of prevention and control of COVID 19 epidemic and economic and social development, to properly handle civil cases involving COVID 19 epidemic in accordance with the law, to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the people , and to maintain social and economic order as well as social fairness and justice, taking into account trial practice experience, the SPC has put forward the following guiding opinions in accordance with the relevant provisions of laws and judicial interpretations.
First. Giving full play to the role of judicial safeguard
The people's courts at all levels should be fully aware of the major impact of the epidemic on the economy and society, Based on the overall situation of promoting epidemic prevention and control and economic and social development, give full play to the role of justice in regulating social relations, actively participate in the governance of litigation sources, adhere to the alternative dispute resolution mechanism in the front, adhere to the priority of mediation, actively guide the parties to negotiate and settle disputes, share risks and tide over difficulties, and effectively resolve disputes in the bud and at the grassroots level. In hearing civil cases involving epidemic situations, the people’ courts shall accurately apply the law according to the actual situation of the cases,balancing the interests of all parties, protecting the legitimate rights and interests of the parties, serving the economic and social development and fulfilling the unification of legal effect and social effect.
Second. Accurate application of force majeure rules in accordance with the law
When hearing civil cases involving COVID 19 epidemic situations, the people's courts should accurately apply the specific provisions of force majeure and apply them in strict manner. For civil disputes directly affected by the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures that meet the legal requirements of force majeure, Article 180 of the General Provisions of the Civil Law of PRC and Articles 117 and 118 of the Contract Law of PRC shall be applied. Where it has been otherwise provided under other laws and administrative regulations , such other provisions shall prevail. If a party wishes to partly or wholly exempt its liability based on force majeure, it shall bear the burden of proof to prove that the failure to perform its duties was partly or wholly due to force majeure.
Three. Proper handing of contract disputes in accordance with the law
Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, in cases of contract disputes directly affected by the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures, when applying the law , the impact of the epidemic situation on different regions, different industries and different cases shall be comprehensively considered, the causal relationship and cause force between the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures and the failure to perform the contract shall be accurately determined , and the following rules shall be followed:
(a) if the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures directly lead to the failure to perform contract, the provisions of force majeure shall be applied in accordance with the law to partially or wholly exempt the liabilities to the extent affected the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures. If the parties have attributable reasons for the failure to perform the contract or the exaggeration of losses, they shall bear responsibilities according to law. If a party can not perform its contractual obligations due to the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures and claims that it has fulfilled its duty of timely notification, he/ she shall bear the corresponding burden of proof.
(b) if the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures only lead to difficulties in the performance of the contract, the parties may renegotiate; If the contract is capable of being continued, the people's court shall earnestly strengthen the mediation and actively guide the parties to continue to perform the contract. If a party requests to terminate the contract on the grounds of difficulties in performing the contract, the people's court will not support it. If continuing to perform the contract is obviously unfair to one party, and if the party requests to alter the contract performance period, performance method, price amount, etc., the people's court shall decide whether to support it according to the actual situation of the case. If after the contract is altered according to law, the parties still claim partial or complete exemption from liability, the people's court will not support such claim. The people's court shall support the request of the parties to terminate the contract if the purpose of the contract cannot be realized due to the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures.
(c) If the parties concerned have received subsidies from government departments, tax relief or subsidies from others, debt relief, etc. due to the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures, the people's court may take it as a reference factor for determining whether the contract can be continued.
Four. Dealing with labor dispute cases according to law
The people’s court should strengthen coordination with the government and relevant departments to support employers to adopt flexible working methods in accordance with laws and regulations during the epidemic prevention and control period. When hearing labor dispute cases involving epidemic situations, the provisions of Article 26 of the Labor Law of the PRC and Article 40 of the Labor Contract Law of PRC shall be accurately applied. The people's court will not support the employer's claim to terminate the labor relationship only on the grounds that the worker is a confirmed COVID 19 patient, a suspected COVID 19 patient, an asymptomatic infected person, a legally quarantined person or the employee comes from a relatively serious epidemic region. Regarding the handling of relevant labor dispute cases, the people’s court should correctly understand and give reference to the policy documents formulated by the relevant administrative departments of the State Council and the provincial people's governments on proper handling of labor relations during the epidemic prevention and control period.
Five.Application of punitive damages according to law
For businesses dealing in masks, goggles, protective clothing, disinfectant and other epidemic prevention items , as well as food and medicines, if a situation occurs which falls within either of Article 55 of Consumer Rights Protection Law of PRC,Article 148 (2) of the Food Safety Law of PRC, Article 144(3) of the Drug Administration Law of PRC or, Article 15 of the Provisions of SPC on Several Issues Concerning the Application of Laws in Hearing Food and Drug Disputes,and the consumer invokes the application of punitive damages, the people's court shall support such claims.
Six. Suspension of the limitation period according to law
In cases where an obligee can not exercise his or her right of claim during the last six months of the limitation period due to the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures, and the obligee invokes Article 194 (1)(a)of the General Provisions of the Civil Law of PRC for a suspension, the people’s court shall allow such suspension.
Seven. Postponement of the litigation period according to law
In cases where the time limit for litigation prescribed by law or designated by the people's court has expired due to the epidemic situation or epidemic prevention and control measures and a party applies for an extension of the time limit in accordance with Article 83 of the Civil Procedure Law of PRC, the people's court shall take comprehensive consideration of the epidemic situation and the evidence provided by the relevant party before determining whether to grant permission or not to protect the party's procedural rights in accordance with the law. If the relevant party is a confirmed COVID 19 patient, a suspected COVID 19 patient, an asymptomatic infected person and a related close contact, and the litigation period expires during the period of prescribed quarantine, and an application for extension under the provisions of this Article has been make, the people's court shall grant an extension of the period.
Eight. Strengthening of judicial assistance
If a party affected by the epidemic has real financial difficulties and applies for exemption, reduction or postponement of litigation costs, the people's court shall examine the application according to law and make decisions in a timely manner. For the court participants in actual need of judicial assistance, timely assistance measures shall be taken on applications.
Nine. Flexible approach to preservation measures
For enterprises affected by the epidemic and in trouble, especially small and medium-sized micro-enterprises and individual industrial and commercial households, the people's courts may take a flexible approach to litigation property preservation measures or property preservation guarantee methods to effectively reduce the burden on enterprises and help enterprises resume work and production.
Ten. Unity of the application of the law
The people's courts at all levels should strengthen the guidance and supervision of the trial of civil cases involving epidemic situations, give full play to the role of professional judges' meetings and judicial committees, and promptly submit legal application issues involving major, difficult and complicated cases to the judicial committees for discussion and decision. The people's courts at higher levels shall strengthen the guidance to the people's courts at lower levels by issuing typical cases and other means to ensure the unification of judgment standards.