The first time you read or heard of the “acts of God” loophole found in most insurance policies, you probably either had a good chuckle, imagining some very unlikely scenario, and moved on assuming that the clause would never really apply to you, or you may have become very worried by the thought that anything could be construed as an act of God. As elusive as the phrase sounds, there are some basic elements in determining whether or not an event truly qualifies as an act of God.
Definitions of an “act of God” vary, but all refer to natural disasters or extreme weather events such as lightening, tornados, hurricanes, or earthquakes. No one can be held responsible for an actual act of God, but if the resulting damage or injury was foreseeable and/or preventable by normal care then there is a responsible party involved. In most cases, where the defendant or insurance company claims that an accident or injury is the result of an act of God, other circumstances apply which place the responsibility on a person.
Injuries caused by falling trees, usually as the result of a weather event such as high winds or snow, are often defended as acts of God. While trees are normally considered an asset, they can cause serious damage and are a serious responsibility. Tree owners are responsible for maintaining the condition of their trees. A tree that is unhealthy or improperly cared for can quickly become a hazard. An extreme weather event will cause the inevitable to happen, but the responsibility lies on the party who allowed the tree to fall into a dangerous state to begin with.
Poor construction is often undetectable until a normal or extreme weather event causes it to fail. Responsibility in such a case depends on the severity of the event, the foreseeability of the event, and the quality of the underlying structure. In locations where severe natural events are known to happen or be likely, the normal standard of care is greater. For instance, in areas where tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes are common, buildings must be constructed to reasonably withstand such events. Some catastrophes are so extreme that no building could withstand the event, but in cases of inadequate construction, a natural disaster or extreme weather event does not constitute an “act of God” defense. More often, this is an issue with normal storms which cause disproportional damage or injuries.
Improper maintenance of all kinds can turn and act of God into a preventable accident. Airplane crashes, rocks falling on highways, collapsing bridges, and even capsizing boats, among many other things have been unsuccessfully defended as acts of God. Negligence can come in the form of failing to heed knowledge of a danger in other ways, as well. For instance, a tour guide in Arizona was held responsible for leading a group of tourists to their death in a flash flood. Because the guide had been informed that the area was prone to flash floods at that time of year, it was not simply an act of God, but a preventable risk.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in an incident that the defendant or insurance company claims is an act of God do not take this defense on face value. An act of God may very well have contributed to the event, but you must look deeper to determine whether human negligence allowed the act of God to cause the injury or death.
If you or a loved on has been injured in a natural disaster or weather event,contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today.