The term “act of God” is sometimes used to attribute an event to divine intervention. Often it is used in conjunction with a natural disaster or tragic event. In contrast, a miracle is often thought of as a random event attributed to divine intervention. Some consider it separate from the actions of nature and the relationship to fate or destiny.  An act of God can mean many things to many people. But what does this mean legally? Our litigation group examines the many ways in which an “act of force majeure” in legal contracts has been interpreted by law and jurisdiction. Insurance policies often have long lists of exclusions for damage caused by force majeure. Policyholders should carefully review their policies to see what types of damages caused by force majeure are covered. Then, they can make informed decisions about whether to take out additional insurance to protect themselves and their property from certain risks. An act of God is a natural disaster that no one can prevent, such as an earthquake, tidal wave, volcanic eruption, hurricane, or tornado. An act of God is generally considered to be an act attributed to nature without human intervention. For example, damage caused by a tornado or lightning would be considered a case of force majeure.
Damage is not considered a case of force majeure if it is caused by the owner. More recently, it has been claimed that human activities are the main causes of certain events that were previously considered natural disasters. In particular, in the United States, tort laws are sometimes influenced by force majeure. This type of law regulates bodily injury. If a force majeure event causes an injury without human intervention, this is a valid defence for the person accused of causing the injury. For example, if a person is injured in a car accident after losing control on an icy road, the freezing conditions are considered a case of force majeure and the manufacturer is not responsible. If a contract cannot be performed or if additional costs or delays arise due to force majeure, the court may fulfill the promise of performance. This may mean that a refund or renewal is required, but neither party can be held responsible for the breach. Is the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic an “act of force majeure”? This may seem like a philosophical or theological question – but it is very likely that it is a legal issue.
What for? Indeed, the occurrence of a case of force majeure can extinguish the liability of a party in breach of contract. A designation of divine action can be legally significant in the following way: Jurisprudence on the body of God`s action can be as confusing and unpredictable as the acts of God himself. Where is COVID-19? There is a lack of jurisprudence that interprets the language of God`s act in the context of pandemics or virus outbreaks. There is no doubt that parties whose contractual performance has been hindered by the coronavirus pandemic will invoke force majeure as a contractual or habitual defense, arguing that an unknown and unexpected natural phenomenon has occurred, so their non-compliance with a contractual obligation should be excused. Meanwhile, parties who want to enforce contracts or impose liability can take advantage of the economic consequences of the outbreak, arguing that the real crippling force was not the coronavirus, but its economic impact. An indication of direction in the contractual environment may be the other events listed as force majeure: many courts interpreting the force majeure provisions will use the specific examples of force majeure events to support the interpretation of broader terms such as force majeure. Therefore, determining whether a pandemic or virus outbreak could be an act of force majeure could depend on the other misfortunes that the parties have imagined to excuse obligations under the contract. In any case, it depends on the details of the language of the contract, the circumstances of non-performance and the degree of avoidance. As for certain legal outcomes? Only God knows. Alston & Bird has formed a multidisciplinary working group to advise its clients on the business and legal impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19). You can see all our work on the coronavirus in all sectors and subscribe to our future webinars and tips.
Contractual force majeure The terms force majeure and force majeure are closely related – in fact, force majeure literally means a higher power or force. But not all cases of force majeure are cases of force majeure or vice versa. Instead, force majeure is generally identified as one of many events that could trigger an excuse for non-performance under a force majeure provision. Take, for example, the force majeure provision in Tug Blarney LLC v. Ridge Contracting Inc., which provided as follows: Neither C&K nor the smuggler shall be liable for any loss or damage or delay or failure in the performance of this Agreement resulting from the following reasons: force majeure, act of war, act of enemies of the State, pirates or thieves, arrest or detention of princes, officers, dictators or persons, or confiscation in the context of judicial proceedings […]; strikes, lockouts, work stoppages or work restrictions for any reason, whether partial or general; or riot or civil unrest. .