act of God

Primary tabs

An act of God refers to a severe, unanticipated natural event for which no human is responsible. Despite its facial religious connections, the usefulness of the term means “act of God” is frequently used in otherwise secular statutory and case law.

The term “act of God” is especially relevant in both the environmental sector and in drafting contracts. Because no human is responsible for an act of God, raising the argument that an event is an act of God can function as a defense to avoid liability. Nonetheless, many environmental statutes tend to narrowly define an act of God which limits the use of this defense to the most extreme cases

Contracts frequently include an act of God clause, also written as force majeure clause, to allow for non-performance in the event an act of God makes completing the contract impossible. Furthermore, though less common than it used to be, many insurance contracts claim not to provide coverage/indemnification for acts of God. 

In recent years, scientific advancements in predicting and anticipating natural events have led some scholars to call into question the continued existence of the act of God defenses. Nonetheless, the wide range of court cases flowing from the Covid-19 pandemic such as JN Contemporary Art v. Phillips Auctioneers LLC successfully raise this defense to indicate that acts of God are still at least somewhat relevant today. 

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]