An act of god is The famous Movie dialogue Oh My God! When Kanji Lal aka Paresh Rawal applied the Act of God as a defense when his shop was destroyed due to an earthquake.

Act of God in Tort law or act of God force majeure” as a defense under the Law and whether COVID-19 can be considered an Act of God.

An act of God is a general defense used in torts when an event over which the defendant has no control occurs and the damage is caused by the forces of nature. In those cases, the defendant will not be liable in the law of tort for such accidental damage. Act of God defined as circumstances which no human foresight can provide against any of which human prudence is not bound to recognize the possibility, and which when they do occur, thus the calamities that do not involve the obligation of paying for the consequences that result from them.


What is an Act of God

As shown in the movie the Term Act of God is lit a bit differently as per the legal concept.

Is the act of God still a thing?

An act of God is an unavoidable incident that is immediate, unexpected, and irresistible. Even if it could have been predicted, it could not have been averted under any circumstances. This rule is founded on “fault,” which states that a person cannot be punished if all measures were taken, but causality somehow took place. Natural Forces, No Human Interventions, and No Reasonable Ground for Anticipation are the three prerequisites for an Act of God. An ordinary guy who can make thoughtful decisions is a reasonable man. The court may demand court testimony proving that the incident was unexpected.

Act Of God Or Vis Major 
The 'act of God' defence is based on the tort law principle that liability must be founded on a fault and that a person cannot be penalized where the fault is that of a 'vis major' where all precautions were taken, and a casualty still occurred. 
Vis major is defined, as A loss that results immediately from a natural cause without the intervention of man, and could not have been prevented by the exercise of prudence, diligence, and care. According to Salmond an act of God includes those acts which a man cannot avoid by taking reasonable care. 

Such accidents are the result of natural forces and are incoherent with the agency of man. 

Thus it is an act which is due to natural causes directly and exclusively without human intervention, and that it could not have been prevented by any amount of foresight and pains and care reasonably to have been expected from him 
i.e. the defendant. 
According to Lord Mansfield, act of god is defines as it is something in opposition to the act of man

Two elements have to be considered while applying “Act of God” as a defense

  1. Natural causes
  2. An incidence not reasonably foreseeable 

Natural Causes

An act of God is an uncommon, extraordinary, and unforeseen manifestation of the forces of nature, or a misfortune or accident arising from inevitable necessity. An act of god cannot prevent by reasonable human foresight and care.

The effect of common causes may be foreseen and avoided by the exercise of human care. For example, the fact that rain will leak through a defective roof is foreseeable by an ordinary man. In case of foreseeable causes, failure to take the necessary precautions constitutes negligence, and the party injured in the accident may be entitled to damages.

An act of God, therefore, is so extraordinary and devoid of human agency that reasonable care would not avoid the consequences. Hence in such cases, the injured party has no right to damages.

An incidence not reasonably foreseeable 

The basic and prime element of an act of god is the happening of an unforeseeable event. For this, if the harm or loss was caused by a foreseeable accident that could have been prevented, the party who suffered the injury has the right to compensation. However, the damage caused by an unforeseen and uncontrollable natural event is not compensable as it could not have been prevented or avoided by the foresight or prudence of man.

Moreover, courts are of the opinion that the act of God defense exists only if the event is so exceptional and could not have been anticipated or expected by the long history of climate variations in the locality. It is constructed by only the memory of man i.e. recorded history. The courts may demand expert testimonies to prove that an event was unforeseeable.

Example and Cases

Nichols v. Marshland

In the case of Nichols v. Marshland [1], the defendant has a number of artificial lakes on his land. Extraordinary rain such as had never been witnessed in living memory caused the banks of the lakes to burst and the escaping water carried away four bridges belonging to the plaintiff. It was held that an act of God swept the plaintiff’s bridges and the defendant was not liable.

Ramalinga Nadar v. Narayana Reddiar

In the case of Ramalinga Nadar v. Narayana Reddiar[3], the plaintiff had booked goods with the defendant for transportation. The goods are looted by a mob, the prevention of which was beyond the control of the defendant. It was held that event beyond the control of the defendant cannot be said Act of God. It was held that the destructive acts of an unruly mob cannot be considered an Act of God.

Blyth v. Birmingham Water Works Co

In the case of Blyth v. Birmingham Water Works Co[2], the defendants had constructed water pipes that were reasonably strong enough to withstand severe frost. There was an unprecedented severe frost that year causing the pipes to burst resulting in severe damage to the plaintiff’s property. It was held that though frost is a natural phenomenon, the occurrence of an unforeseen severe frost can be attributed to an act of God, thus relieving the defendants of any liability.

Is the pandemic an act of God?

If we talk about COVID-19, is the pandemic an act of God?

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken the whole of society. Economic conditions, daily operations, and company ventures have been put on hold for a considerable time; unfulfilled contractual responsibilities result in contract breaches. Due to the inability caused by the government’s imposition of lockdown to further restrict the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic has so defied several legitimate agreements. Since the parties are not willfully breaking these contracts, they seek justifications to avoid their contractual obligations. Parties’ contracts only contain Force Majeure clauses, including Acts of God, for this purpose.

Mrs. Nirmala Sitaraman, India’s Minister of Finance, declared it an “Act of God,” and parties may use it as a defense.

Even though specific epidemics or pandemics are not considered Acts of God, some contracts include standard conditions, while others have customized stipulations. For instance, a force majeure clause in a shipping contract might mention a tsunami as a natural disaster. These scenarios generally include war, riots, natural catastrophes or Acts of God, strikes, new government regulations enforcing an embargo, boycotts, the emergence of diseases, and others. Even if an event isn’t specified, it is still read similarly.

These Force Majeure provisions differ between parties as well. But, based on the justification of court rulings, natural causes caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it can be described as an Act of God. However, those occurrences would be covered if a contract contains a Force Majeure clause and expressly mentions epidemics or pandemics.

Difference between an act of God and force majeure 

  • In contrast to force majeure, which includes both naturally occurring occurrences and events caused by human involvement, an act of God typically solely refers to events that happen spontaneously.
  • However, the legal implications of both ideas are the same.
  • A force majeure clause, for instance, can be present in a shipping contract and apply to natural calamities like a tsunami.
  • Force majeure often refers to events like war, riots, natural catastrophes or other acts of God, strikes, the implementation of new government regulations that impose an embargo, boycotts, the onset of diseases, etc.
  • It is not enough to say that an unanticipated occurrence has invoked a force majeure provision; the parties must agree.







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