Acts of God or Natural Disaster Accidents

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 What Is an Act of God?

In a legal context, an “Act of God” generally refers to an event that involves a natural disaster. Much like a natural disaster, an Act of God is essentially any natural incident that is considered to be beyond a person’s control, is difficult to predict, and would be hard to quantify in terms of subsequently occurring damages.

Some examples of natural disaster accidents that would most likely constitute an Act of God include the following:

  • Floods;
  • Earthquakes;
  • Lightning;
  • Wildfires;
  • Hurricanes;
  • Tornadoes;
  • Avalanches;
  • Tsunamis;
  • Volcanic eruptions; and
  • Various other weather-related events.

You may have encountered an Act of God provision in a contract or more likely in a home insurance policy. In some instances, these provisions may even appear as a “Force Majeure” clause. Regardless of which term is used, they both carry the same meaning.

With respect to contracts, insurance policies, and other legal instruments, incorporating these provisions can serve to eliminate liability in the event that an unpreventable or natural disaster occurs and stops the parties from being able to perform their legal obligations. In most instances, an Act of God provision will excuse both parties from their duties.

There is one exception, however, and that is if the parties negotiated for special conditions as to when the provision only applies to one of the parties and not the other that is signing the legal document. Hence, why it is so important to ensure that an Act of God clause is written in clear and concise language. If not, a party may be at risk of being held legally responsible for damages that were beyond their control.

Thus, it would be in your best interest to consult a local contract lawyer or personal injury attorney about legal instruments that contain Act of God or Force Majeure provisions. An attorney will be able to advise on you when an Act of God clause may be triggered and can recommend other types of provisions that you may want to include or be on alert for in the next insurance policy or contract that you sign.

How Can I Recover Damages from an Act of God?

If an individual has sustained injuries or damages due to an event that may be classified as an Act of God or which would fall under such a provision, an insurance company may potentially be willing to pay for some of the damages incurred.

For instance, a health insurance policy, rental insurance policy, or homeowner’s insurance policy may be some of the legal documents that one should review first to see if it states that it will cover costs associated with Acts of God.

It should be noted, however, that some incidents may require purchasing special insurance. For example, a person’s homeowners insurance company may not be willing to cover a particular event like coastal flooding if a person resides on property next to the ocean. While this may seem counterintuitive, it is often a policy that is enforced when people choose to own property next to a body of water.

Additionally, most homeowners insurance policies tend to exclude coverage for damages stemming from an earthquake as well. Therefore, if a person resides in a location that is prone to earthquakes, such as in a state on the west coast, then they will most likely need to purchase a separate policy in order to gain coverage for such damages.

On the other hand, just because a natural disaster accident may have been caused by what is considered an Act of God event does not necessarily mean that there may not be someone else whom a person can hold responsible for the damages they incurred. This is why it is so important that parties in these cases examine all of the facts of a natural disaster accident to see if there are any individuals whom they can hold legally responsible.

For instance, a person may be able to file a lawsuit based on claims involving negligence, construction defects, or defective product liability, even when an Act of God is deemed to have contributed to the resulting damages.

What Types of Lawsuits Are Commonly Associated with Acts of God?

An Act of God clause is most commonly associated with a breach of contract lawsuit. A breach contract lawsuit is simply when one of the parties to a contract sues the other for violating one of the terms or provisions of a contract that they entered into together.

In this instance, one party will most likely be claiming that they could not comply with one of their legal duties in the contract due to an event that was beyond their control, while the other (most likely the non-breaching party) would be arguing that the event was one that was foreseeable and that it does not qualify as a true Act of God.

Some other types of lawsuits that are commonly associated with Acts of God provisions include the following:

  • Claims in connection to injuries received in a tractor trailer accident that involved dangerous chemical spills or gas leaks;
  • Claims related to injuries from building collapses from either lack of renovations, use of old building materials, or weather conditions like an earthquake;
  • Claims associated with injuries sustained in terrorist attacks, wars, and possibly riots if they were not caused by a party to a legal document or foreseeable before a legal document went into effect;
  • Claims that concern work-related riots, strikes, labor union disputes, or labor strikes;
  • Claims that involve COVID-19 and other pandemics (note that this is still being debated and is increasingly becoming a per jurisdictional issue);
  • Claims that address data breaches, cyberattacks, and other kinds of digital events that harm or destroy an individual or an entity’s financials as well as other types of sensitive information; and
  • Claims that are connected to government regulations that prevent the obligations in a legal document from being carried out due to a newly passed law.

As previously discussed, Act of God clauses concern any type of incident that is not foreseeable, controllable, or is seemingly out of a party to a legal document’s control. As such, claims in these lawsuits may involve more than just natural disaster accidents, including government regulations, wars, riots, pandemics, cyberattacks, and environmental harms like chemical spills in an accident.

Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney?

If you have any questions or are involved in a dispute over a document involving an Act of God provision, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local personal injury attorney for further legal advice. An experienced personal injury attorney who practices in your area can be a useful resource when it comes to reviewing Act of God clauses and/or incorporating these clauses in your legal documents.

Your attorney will be able to assist you in drafting a new contract, modifying an existing agreement, and ensuring that any provisions included in your legal documents or policies are valid and legally enforceable. Your attorney will also be able to provide representation in court if you are being sued for breaching an Act of God provision, or alternatively, if you need to bring a lawsuit against another party for failing to perform under an invalid Act of God clause.

In addition, your attorney can apprise you of your legal rights as well as will be able to discuss your best options for legal recourse. Your attorney will also be able to walk you through the necessary steps of whichever legal procedure you need assistance with and can help guide you through the stages of a lawsuit filed in the civil law court system.

Finally, your attorney will also be able to aid you in devising a solid legal plan to advocate for enforcing, drafting, or invalidating an Act of God provision in your next legal agreement or policy.

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