Act of God

Act of God in United Kingdom

Definition of Act of God

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Act of God : An event due to natural causes (storms, earthquakes, floods, etc.) so exceptionally severe that no-one could reasonably be expected to anticipate or guard against it.

See force majeure.

Definition of Act Of God

This refers to unforseeable and extreme weather conditions.

Meaning of Act of God

The following is an old definition of Act of God [1]: Such inevitable accident as cannot be prevented by human care, skill or foresight; but results from natural causes, such as lightning and tempest, floods and inundation. Something superhuman, or something in opposition to the act of man. Every “act of God” is an “inevitable accident,” because no human agency can resist it; but it does not follow that every inevitable accident is an act of God. Damage done by lightning is an inevitable accident, and also an act of God, but the collision of two vessels, in the dark, is an inevitable accident, and not an act of God. That may be an “inevitable accident ” which no human foresight or precaution can prevent; while ” act of God ” denotes a natural accident which could not happen by the intervention of man. The latter expression excludes all human agency. Moreover, to excuse a carrier, the act of God must also be the immediate, not the remote, cause of the loss. Courts and writers have differed as to whether ” unavoidable accident ” in a bill of lading is exactly equivalent to the exception of the common law ” act of God or of the public enemies.” Some treat ” inevitable accident,” ” perils of the sea,” ” of navigation,” ” of the road,” as equivalent to the ” act of God ” as this phrase is used by judges and lawyers; and others treat them as expressing different ideas. Others again view them as Identical for the purpose of making ” inevitable accident ” mean ” act of God,” in the sense of a sudden and violent act of nature; while others make them equivalent in order to make “act of God ” mean any accident which the carrier cannot, by proper care, foresight, and skill, avoid. Many cases overlook the common custom of merchants (the law in such matters) that all bills of lading contain an exception against losses by inevitable accident, perils of the sea, etc. If a man signs a bill containing the technical phrase ” act of God ” he will be held according to the usual custom of commerce. The maxim actus Dei nemini facit injuriam does not appear to be different from lex non cogit ad impossibilia, impotentia excusat legem, impossibilium nulla obligatio est, and other maxims of the Roman law. “Act of God “no more excludes human agency than do such terms as Deo volente, Deo juvante, ex visitatione Dei, Providential dispensation, or the Roman terms fataliter, divinitus, casus fortuitus, damnum fatale, all which originally referred to the intervention of the gods, in the sense that the appropriate human agency was powerless. When rights depend upon the life of a man, they end with his death, which is called an ” act of God,” whether from nature, accident, carelessness, or suicide. The law was first established by the courts of England with Reference to carriers by land, on whom the Roman law imposed no liability beyond that of other bailees for reward. Nor did the Eoman law make a distinction between inevitable accident arising from what in English law is termed ” the act of God,” and inevitable accident arising from other causes, but, on the contrary, afforded immunity to the carrier, without distinction, whenever the loss resulted from ” casus forfuitus” ” damnum fatale” or ” vis major “- unforeseen and unavoidable accident. It is not under all circumstances that inevitable accident arising from the so-called act of God will, any more than inevitable accident in general by the Roman and continental law, afford immunity to the carrier. This must depend upon his ability to avert the effects of the vis major, and the degree of diligence which he is bound to apply to that end. All causes of inevitable accident may be divided into two classes: those which are occasioned by the elementary forces of natuite unconnected with the agency of man or other cause; and those which have their origin, in whole or in part, in the agency of man, whether in acts of commission or omission, of nonfeasance or mis-feasance, or in any other cause independent of the agency of natural forced. It is not because an accident is occasioned by the agency of’ nature, and therefore by what may be termed the ” act of God,” that it necessarily follows that the carrier is entitled to immunity. The carrier is bound to do his utmost to protect the goods from loss or damage, and if he fails herein he becomes liable from the nature of his contract. If by his default in omitting to take the necessary care, loss or damage ensues, he remains responsible, though the so-called act of God may have been the immediate cause of the mischief. What Story says of “perils of the seas ” applies equally to such perils coming within the designation of “acts of God.” That is, all that can be required of the carrier is that he shall do all that is reasonably and practically possible to insure the safety of the goods. If he uses all the known means to which prudent and experienced carriers ordinarily have recourse he does all that can be reasonably required of him; and if, under such circumstances, he is overpowered by storm or other natural agency, he is within the rule which gives immunity from the effects of such vis major as the act of God. It is, therefore, erroneous to say that the vis major must be such as “no amount of human care or skill could have resisted ” or the injury such as ” no human ability could have prevented.” Where, in an action for the loss of goods, the defense is “an act of Gpd ” [an unusual flood], the burden of showing that the negligence of the carrier co-operated to produce the loss is on the shipper. Such defense may be shown under a general denial. Where a duty is imposed upon a person by law he will not be absolved from liability for non-performance occasioned by an act of God, unless he has expressly stipulated for exemption. See further Accident Carrier; Condition; Possibility.


Notes and References

  1. Concept of Act of God provided by the Anderson Dictionary of Law (1889) (Dictionary of Law consisting of Judicial Definitions and Explanations of Words, Phrases and Maxims and an Exposition of the Principles of Law: Comprising a Dictionary and Compendium of American and English Jurisprudence; William C. Anderson; T. H. Flood and Company, Law Publishers, Chicago, United States)






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