A serious personal injury accident can cripple the finances of even a fairly well-off family. Medical bills, lost income, and other damages add up quickly. Victims injured due to another person’s negligence, expect that individual’s insurance company to cover at least a portion of their losses.
When you file a personal injury claim, the other side will try everything to reduce the amount they have to pay you. They will try to use several defenses to avoid paying you anything. One such defense is that an “Act of God,” or force majeure, was the cause of your damages.
How does an Act of God relate to a personal injury case? An Act of God is an event caused by natural forces without human agency and could not have been prevented by due care or reasonable foresight. The insurance company might use this defense if a natural disaster, such as lighting, a flood, or an earthquake, contributed to the accident, or if their policyholder caused the accident due to a sudden medical emergency such as a stroke or heart attack. This is also called the “sudden medical emergency defense.” Although the medical emergency defense rarely works in California, it is sometimes effective in auto accident cases when the defendant lost control of his or her vehicle due to a medical condition that had not been diagnosed.
The Act of God Defense Doesn’t Always Work
Fortunately, just because an insurance company or defendant tries to use the Act of God defense doesn’t mean it will work. When evaluating your case and determining whether the force majeure defense has merit, your attorney will ask the following questions:
- Was the natural event that allegedly caused the injuries foreseeable?
- How often has this natural event occurred previously?
- Was the defendant negligent, and was this negligence a proximate cause of the injuries?
Even if a natural force did contribute to your injury or loss, the defendant’s negligence may also be a contributing factor. In that case he or she could still be liable for at least a portion of your damages. And if the natural event was foreseeable, the force majeure defense would not apply to your case.
Let’s examine how the act of God defense might apply (or not apply) to a few common personal injury scenarios:
A driver fell unconscious behind the wheel, resulting in a car accident.
If a driver has a stroke or sudden cardiac arrest due to health issues that had not been diagnosed, the Act of God defense might be effective. If, however, the driver’s medical condition had been diagnosed but chose to drive anyway, the Act of God defense would not apply because the medical emergency was foreseeable. And of course, if the driver fell asleep because he or she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the Act of God defense would not apply.
A tree branch fell during a windstorm and injured someone.
Property owners have a legal duty to keep their premises in reasonably safe condition. This involves performing routine maintenance and removing any potential hazards including dead or decaying trees and branches. Therefore, even if high winds cause a branch to fall, the property owner would most likely still be held liable for any resulting damages.
An airplane passenger was injured due to turbulence.
In-flight injuries due to turbulence are rare, but they do happen. Passengers can sustain severe injuries if turbulence throws them from their seats or causes them to fall on the way to the bathroom.
If the pilot could not have anticipated the turbulence and the crew took reasonable measures to protect passengers, the airline might be able to use the act of God defense to avoid liability; however, if the turbulence was foreseeable or the crew failed to warn passengers to fasten their seatbelts, the airline might be held financially accountable for any resulting injuries.
A commercial trucker lost control of his or her vehicle due to inclement weather, resulting in an accident that injured another driver.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, rain and snow contributed to more than 16,000 injury crashes involving large trucks in 2016. Because tractor-trailers weigh up to 20 times more than the average passenger vehicle, the injuries sustained in these accidents can be catastrophic. Victims are often sidelined from work while they recover, and the lost income and medical bills can add up quickly.
Insurance companies that represent motor carriers often use the act of God defense when inclement weather contributes to accidents; however, in order for this defense to work, the defendant must prove the weather event was unforeseeable and the truck driver exercised reasonable care given the circumstances. If the event was foreseeable or if the trucker failed to slow down, turn on the headlights, or maintain a safe following distance and this negligence contributed to the crash, the motor carrier may be held liable for any damages incurred by the accident victims.
How Can The Law Office of Michael D. Waks Help My Case?
If the insurance company has used the Act of God defense to deny your claim, it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible. Overcoming the Act of God defense requires a thorough investigation by a team of experts. If you wait too long to consult a lawyer, critical evidence may be concealed, altered, or destroyed. That can make your case more challenging to win.
Attorney Michael D. Waks has successfully helped clients overcome the Act of God defense and recover the compensation they were owed. He can assess your case from all angles and identify weaknesses in the insurance company’s defense though interrogatories and depositions of the defendant and other relevant parties.
Very few attorneys have extensive experience combating the Act of God defense, but Michael Waks has a track record of success in such claims. He knows how to pull together the evidence and use creative legal strategies to develop the story of how the accident occurred and demonstrate why his clients are entitled to compensation.
Discuss Your Case with a Southern California Personal Injury Attorney
Your Injuries are Personal to Me
If you or someone you love was seriously injured but the insurance company has used the Act of God defense to deny your claim, contact our law firm today to discuss your case. Attorney Michael D. Waks will evaluate your claim for free and help you determine the most strategic way to proceed. Call (562) 206-1939 or use our Contact Form to set up a case evaluation with a personal injury lawyer in southern California.
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