When pursuing a personal injury claim, it’s not uncommon for the opposing party to employ various defenses in an attempt to reduce their liability. One such defense is the “Act of God,” also known as force majeure.
Defining the Act of God Defense
The Act of God defense refers to an event caused by natural forces without human agency, which couldn’t have been prevented by reasonable foresight or care. Insurance companies might utilize this defense when attributing an accident to a natural disaster, such as lightning, floods, or earthquakes, or to a sudden medical emergency like a stroke or heart attack experienced by their policyholder. This defense is also known as the “sudden medical emergency defense,” although its effectiveness is limited in California.
Evaluating the Merit of the Act of God Defense
According to attorney Mark Obral, it’s important to note that just because the Act of God defense is raised doesn’t automatically guarantee its success. When assessing the validity of the force majeure defense, your attorney will consider the following factors:
- Foreseeability of the Natural Event: Was the natural event that allegedly caused the injuries reasonably foreseeable?
- Frequency of Occurrence: How often has this particular natural event occurred in the past?
- Defendant’s Negligence and Proximate Cause: Was the defendant negligent, and did this negligence contribute to the injuries sustained?
Even if a natural force played a role in the injury or loss, the defendant’s negligence may still be a contributing factor, holding them liable for a portion of the damages. Moreover, if the natural event was foreseeable, the Act of God defense would not apply to your case.
Exploring the Act of God Defense in Common Personal Injury Scenarios
Let’s examine how the Act of God defense may or may not apply to several typical personal injury scenarios:
1. Unconscious Driver in a Car Accident
If a driver experiences a sudden medical emergency, such as a stroke or cardiac arrest, which was previously undiagnosed, the Act of God defense might be applicable. However, if the medical condition was known, or if the driver operated the vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the defense would not be valid.
2. Injury Caused by a Falling Tree Branch
Property owners have a legal obligation to maintain safe premises, including the removal of potential hazards like decaying trees or branches. Even if high winds caused a branch to fall, the property owner would likely still be held responsible for resulting damages.
3. Injuries from Turbulence on an Airplane
While in-flight injuries due to turbulence are rare, they can occur. If the turbulence was unforeseeable and the airline took reasonable measures to protect passengers, the Act of God defense might be applicable. However, if the turbulence was foreseeable, or if the crew failed to warn passengers or take necessary precautions, the airline could be held liable.
4. Commercial Truck Accident in Inclement Weather
Motor carriers’ insurance companies often employ the Act of God defense when accidents involve inclement weather. For this defense to be successful, the defendant must demonstrate that the weather event was unforeseeable, and the truck driver exercised reasonable care. Negligence on the part of the driver, such as failure to slow down or maintain a safe distance, could still hold the motor carrier liable.
Discuss Your Claim with a Personal Injury Lawyer in Long Beach
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If the Act of God defense has been used to deny your claim, turn to the Law Office of Michael D. Waks. Attorney Waks will evaluate the circumstances surrounding the accident in which you were hurt for free and then help you determine how best to proceed. Call (562) 206-1939 or submit our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation with a personal injury attorney in Long Beach.
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