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ACT OF GOD

act  of  God.An  overwhelming,  unpreventable  event  caused  exclusively  by  forces  of  nature,

such as an earthquake, flood, or tornado. • The definition has been statutorily broadened to include

all natural phenomena that are exceptional, inevitable, and irresistible, the effects of which could

not be prevented or avoided by the exercise of due care or foresight. 42 USCA § 9601(1). — Also

termed act of  nature; act of  providence; superior force; vis major; irresistible superhuman force;

vis  divina.  Cf.  FORCE  MAJEURE;  unavoidable  accident  under  ACCIDENT.  [Cases:  Contracts

303(3), 309(1). C.J.S. Contracts §§ 520–524.]

“Act of God may be defined as an operation of natural forces so unexpected that no human

foresight or skill  could reasonably be  expected to anticipate it. It has been suggested that it also

has the wider meaning of ‘any event which could not have been prevented by reasonable care on

the  part of anyone.’ This nearly identifies it with inevitable accident, but, however desirable this

may  be  for  scientific  arrangement  of  the  law,  there is no  sufficient authority  to  back  this  view.”

P.H. Winfield, A Textbook of the Law of Tort § 16, at 45–46 (5th ed. 1950).

“As  a  technical  term,  ‘act  of  God’  is  untheological  and  infelicitous.  It  is  an  operation  of

‘natural forces’ and this is apt to be confusing  in  that it might imply  positive intervention  of  the

deity. This (at any rate in common under-standing) is apparent in exceptionally severe snowfalls,

thunderstorms and  gales. But a  layman  would  hardly  describe  the  gnawing  of  a  rat as an  act of

God,  and  yet  the  lawyer  may,  in  some  circumstances,  style  it  such.  The  fact  is  that  in  law  the

essence of an act of God is not so much a positive intervention of the deity as a process of nature

not due to the act of man, and it is this negative side which needs emphasis.” ld. at 47.

“[A]ll  natural  agencies,  as  opposed  to  human  activities,  constitute  acts  of  God,  and  not

merely those which attain an extraordinary degree of violence or are of very unusual occurrence.

The distinction is one of kind and not one of degree. The violence or rarity of the event is relevant

only  in  considering  whether  it could  or  could  not  have  been  prevented  by  reasonable  care; if  it

could not, then it is an act of God which will relieve from liability, howsoever trivial or common

its cause may have been. If this be correct, then the unpredictable nature of the occurrence will go

only to show that the act of God in question was one  which the  defendant was under no duty to

foresee  or  provide against. It is only in such a case that  the act of God will provide a defence.”

R.F.V. Heuston, Salmond on the Law of Torts 330 (17th ed. 1977). [Blacks Law 8th]