Legally Speaking, What is an Act of God?

Contracts talk about them, statutes mention them, even TV sitcoms joke about them, but what are acts of God? Many people might think they have a good idea, but given that insurance is often designed to protect against most catastrophes except acts of God, how confident are you that you actually know what is covered?

Acts of God provisions, also called “Force Majeure” clauses, relate to events outside human control, like flash floods, earthquakes, or other natural disasters. Generally, these provisions eliminate or limit liability for injuries or other losses resulting from such events. In contract law, an act of God may be interpreted as a defense against breach for failing to perform based on the concepts of impossibility or impracticality. When an act of God intervenes in the performance of a contract, the promise to perform is often discharged because of the unforeseen circumstance and the resulting delay, expense, or other factors resulting in what would otherwise amount to a breach. For example, if someone promises to be present and perform certain obligation on a specific day, but is unable to do so because a large storm cuts off all practical means of transportation to the job site, this may be considered an act of God that would forgive performance. A refund or rescheduling may still be called for, but direct liability under the contract might be avoided in all or in part due to the storm.

Other kinds of contracts, on the other hand, cannot be avoided by acts of God and may, in fact, be the whole point of the contract. A good example is an insurance policy. As a result, most insurance policies relating to acts of God only pertain to limiting the variable, like types of damage, timing, and extents of coverage. Nevertheless, after major events, like wildfires, earthquakes, widespread floods, or hurricanes, insurance companies have been known to try to limit making payments based on force majeure clauses. Should this happen, it is important to immediately contact an attorney to be sure that your rights are properly protected.

Acts of God may also affect tort laws in America. Tort laws are most often associated with personal injuries. An act of God may be asserted as the intervening cause of a person's injury, without which the harm would never have occurred. In that case, the alleged tortfeasor (person accused of causing the injury) may escape liability. For example, if someone is injured while driving a car, but the accident was caused by an earthquake, then any other drivers involved in the accident, the manufacturer of the car, and any others potentially in the injured driver's cross-hairs may escape liability by asserting that the act of God (the earthquake) is what actually caused the accident.

Of course, there are circumstances where one cannot avoid tort liability for acts of God simply because they should have planned for the natural disaster as a foreseeable possibility. For example, if lightning strikes a metal structure, injuring those within, the builder or building owner may be liable to those injured for not taking steps to properly redirect lightning strikes to the ground and away from those within.

If you are curious as to whether your suit may be subject to a force majeure provision in a contract or another act of God, you should contact a local attorney. You an find attorneys in your area that focus their practice on virtually any area of law you may need by visiting the Law Firms page of our website at

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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